After a day of top level meetings, Zimbabwe's main opposition party on Saturday failed to make a decision on whether it will take part in presidential run-off elections scheduled for next month. Observers now fear that there is a fierce dispute within the Movement for Democratic Change over whether to boycott the second round of voting that was announced on Friday.
After a day of top level meetings, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party on Saturday failed to make a decision on whether it will take part in presidential run-off elections scheduled for next month. Observers now fear that there is a fierce dispute within the Movement for Democratic Change—whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai is staying out of the country for his safety—over whether to boycott the second round of voting that was announced on Friday by Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission.
Tsvangirai claimed an outright majority after the polls and the MDC says the results released this weekend were doctored. Election officials announced on Friday that Tsvangirai had beaten Mugabe in the 29 March presidential poll but failed to win the absolute majority necessary to avoid a second ballot.
The MDC has accused the officials of rigging the results, which showed Tsvangirai won 47,9% of the vote to Mugabe’s 43,2%—falling short of the 50% needed to avoid a run-off. The party says Tsvangirai won the election outright with 50,3% of the vote and that Mugabe’s rule is over.
But the MDC has not signalled how it will handle the run-off. Many believe that participating would legitimise Mugabe’s rigging and worsen a volatile situation in the country where 20 of its supporters have been killed, thousands displaced and hundreds are in hiding from marauding ruling party militias.
On Saturday a senior member of the smaller faction of Zimbabwe’s opposition warned Tsvangirai against a boycott, saying it would effectively hand the presidency with some legitimacy to Mugabe. David Coltart, whose party led by Arthur Mutambara announced last week that it would back Tsvangirai if he took part in the run-off, said that the veteran opposition leader had no option but to contest the run-off.
“My advice is that he should participate in the run-off under protest,” said Coltart, who is also the MDC secretary for legal affairs. He said that, despite evidence that Zanu-PF was preparing for a violent fightback, the odds were still stacked against Mugabe winning because of the bad economic situation.
The election stand-off has been accompanied by a wave of political violence in rural areas that human rights groups and aid agencies say has killed several people and forced hundreds to flee their homes. Rights groups and the MDC say the violence is aimed at people who voted for the opposition and is designed to intimidate them into voting for Mugabe in a second round.
“I have information from credible sources, a group of doctors, which says 600 people have been hospitalised throughout the country because of the ongoing violence,” said Coltart.
There are also signs of widening divisions within the ruling Zanu-PF. Simba Makoni, a former finance minister in Mugabe’s Cabinet, stood against him in the 29 March vote and is thought to be garnering support within his old party for a possible government of national unity, a plan ruled out by Tsvangirai.
Mugabe’s waning popularity among the rank and file in his party could work against the 84-year-old leader’s electoral chances, as will the pressing need for action to tackle the inflation rate—now estimated at 200Â 000%—unemployment, the health crisis and food and energy shortages within Zimbabwe.
Both the police and the civil service are becoming increasingly disaffected. - guardian.co.uk Â