Zimbabwe’s political future remained wide open this week, as Zanu-PF girded its loins for a second round of voting and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) warned that it would not participate in a run-off.
Tendai Biti, MDC secretary general told the Mail & Guardian and reporters in Zimbabwe: “We will not accept any other result. We know we won the election by more than 50%. We will not go into a run-off with anybody.”
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said that Zanu-PF had accepted that because no party had won an outright majority a run-off was inevitable.
The government has confirmed that at least seven Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) officials have been arrested on suspicion of undercounting. Zanu-PF has contested results in 16 constituencies and demanded a recount of the presidential vote — even though the results of the first round of voting have still not been released.
The party is particularly desperate to overturn the vote in nine constituencies to reverse the opposition’s majority in the lower house of Parliament.
President Robert Mugabe took a range of other steps this week to entrench his power and improve his chances in a second round of voting.
Latching on to news that a few white farmers had visited farms from which they were removed, Mugabe used this in a propaganda drive to suggest to rural voters, especially those resettled on formerly white farms, that an MDC victory would mean the loss of their land.
War veterans have invaded 60 of the remaining 200 white-owned farms, forcing farmers off the land and sealing off large swathes of the countryside.
The opposition had, for the first time, been allowed to conduct election campaigning in rural areas. But by whipping up tensions Mugabe intends closing these off to the MDC so that it cannot campaign before the run-off.
Senior army officers have been assigned to the various provinces to lead the offensive, leading the war veterans and Zanu-PF stormtroopers.
The operational commander is General Philip Sibanda, assisted by Major-General Nick Dube. The new invasions began in Masvingo, a southern region that, for years, had voted Zanu-PF, but which rejected Mugabe on this occasion.
On Tuesday, state television reported that 11 white farmers had quit farms in Centenary, a prime farming belt north of Harare, after clashes with resettled black farmers.
In Matabeleland, another region that voted overwhelmingly against Mugabe, Joshua Mhambi, a campaigner for Simba Makoni, reported attacks against opposition activists. “They have sent in militia to target our supporters,” Mhambi said. Police deny allegation of widespread violence.
While cranking up the heat in the countryside, Mugabe on Tuesday held the third meeting of his politburo in four days as he takes “a more hands on approach to affairs”, a member of the politburo said after the meeting.
“The idea is to make sure our people, especially those in the rural areas, see the consequences of voting for the MDC. It is simple, the whites will return and they will lose their land,” the official said.
The source reported that the meeting had discussed the possibility of deploying serving military officers from this week to help war veterans and other Zanu-PF militants.
In another move to entrench his power and strengthen his position before the run-off, Mugabe reappointed his Cabinet this week, with half of the appointees being members who lost their seats in the election.
On Wednesday, Chinamasa told reporters Mugabe had acted well within the law, as the country could not operate without a government.
“It is constitutional that the incumbent president and his Cabinet remain in place until a new president is sworn in. It’s in the Constitution,” he said.
Biti dismissed the claim, saying Mugabe’s move was unconstitutional in terms of amendments agreed during President Thabo Mbeki’s attempted mediation between Zanu and the MDC.
“Constitutional amendment number 18 harmonises the life of Parliament and the presidency. So this means Mugabe is merely a caretaker president at the moment. He cannot take any substantive decisions, least of all appoint a new government.”
A new crackdown on business is also on the cards. Misheck Sibanda, Mugabe’s chief secretary, called business leaders to a meeting on Tuesday and said “government would have no option but to defend the people” against a new wave of price hikes he said were intended to stoke public anger.
And in another sinister development the ZEC has closed its temporary headquarters at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare and moved to an undisclosed venue where no MDC officials are allowed.
“Those who are working on the presidential results are still working on them,” ZEC chairperson George Chiweshe told the M&G on Wednesday.
Chiweshe insisted that the ZEC could issue results “from anywhere” and was subject to no constitutional deadline for the timing of their release.
The delay in releasing the outcome has clearly been intended to give Zanu-PF time to hatch a recovery plan and temper the euphoria of its defeat in the parliamentary election, reducing the risk of public protests.