MDC in the lurch after Zuma gives Zim election two thumbs up

With gentler assessments from Africa despite noting the flaws, President Jacob Zuma offered his "profound congratulations" to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe on Sunday.

"President Zuma urges all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people," said a South African international relations statement.

The vote marks the end of Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's tense compromise government, forced into being by bloodstained 2008 polls, that helped steer the isolated nation out of a protracted crisis.

But Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, shocked by its overwhelming election defeat, has a battle on its hands to convince supporters it has any chance of taking power in the years to come.

And with African observers largely unanimous in endorsing the elections as free and credible, the MDC will struggle to rally regional support behind it in its bid to overturn the result and pave the way for a rerun.

The MDC's survival may depend on a shake-up of its leadership, which many say was naive in entering a four-year unity government with Mugabe's Zanu-PF after a decade of acrimony and conflict.

State media are already sounding the death knell for the party led by former trade unionist Tsvangirai, who has been the only man since 1999 to have offered serious opposition to Zanu-PF – until his hammering in the July 31 polls.

"Morgan Tsvangirai's 15 minutes of fame have come to a spectacular end. It was bound to happen," the pro-Mugabe Sunday Mail crowed in an editorial.

As Tsvangirai (61) prepares to launch a legal challenge to a poll he says was heavily rigged, analysts are asking why his party participated in an exercise it said was riddled with flaws from the outset.

A visibly angry Tsvangirai told reporters on Saturday he would go to court to overturn the result, which gave Zanu-PF a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

About 61% of voters endorsed the 89-year-old Mugabe for another five-year term as president, compared with 34% for Tsvangirai, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said.

Tsvangirai's denunciation of the vote as a "huge farce" smacked of desperation from a man "profoundly shocked by having had the rug pulled out from under his feet", said Piers Pigou of the International Crisis Group, a political think-tank.

"The bottom line is that the MDC formations signed up for this," he said. "They have been outmanoeuvred again. One could ask what on earth made them think you could trust the process in the first place."

Tsvangirai and other senior MDC leaders face accusations that they lost touch with the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans while enjoying the perks of being in a unity government formed in 2009 in the aftermath of another disputed election.

The election loss will reignite debate on Tsvangirai's fitness to continue leading the party, in the wake of a string of sex scandals that called his morals into question.

Tsvangirai has swapped the modest gear he donned at rallies in the party's fledgling years for sharp suits and gleaming shoes in his past five years as prime minister, suggesting he is enjoying the same lavish livestyle as his nemesis.

"Tsvangirai took all his support for granted – that they would never desert him no matter what he did, no matter how badly he behaved," said political analyst Denford Magora, an outspoken Tsvangirai critic.

"In the end, no matter what accusations of rigging are thrown at Zanu-PF, the truth of the matter is that there is no way out for the MDC this time."

The reaction in Zimbabwe's Sunday press was starkly divided, with state-controlled newspaper the Herald proclaiming "President Mugabe romps to victory", while the independent Daily News headlined, "It's a Crisis".

Mugabe's last election
The party might do well to focus its energies instead on the next elections in 2018, which Mugabe, who has towered over Zimbabwean politics since independence from Britain in 1980, will almost certainly be too old at 94 to contest.

The MDC might learn from the example of Mugabe's Zanu-PF, which regrouped to revitalise its support base ahead of this year's poll after narrowly escaping defeat in 2008, said political analyst Eldred Masunungure.

"Presently the MDC is in denial, and justifiably so, but its future depends on what it does once it recovers. It needs to remobilise the people and reconnect with the grassroots," added Masunungure, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.

"It is high time it tried to rejuvenate the leadership. After this kind of electoral tsunami you can't rest on your laurels. That would be disastrous."

Analysts have suggested MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti, outgoing finance minister in the unity government, as a possible successor.

But Biti, a lawyer by profession, might be too much of an intellectual to draw the kind of working class support Tsvangirai enjoyed in his urban stronghold.

"Tendai Biti is very able but Morgan is the one with the appeal and I still think that he's the right person for the party," said Sarah Hudleston, author of Face of Courage: A Biography of Morgan Tsvangirai.

"He made a mistake going into a joint government to start with, but I think the MDC will survive. He must now go back to being an opposition politician."

Western powers, barred from sending full observer teams, voiced serious doubts about the polls following concerns over irregularities.

Germany said on Sunday that the election "casts a big shadow on the political and economic future of Zimbabwe", while Australia called for new polls.

"Given our doubts about the results, Australia calls for a rerun of the elections based on a verified and agreed voters roll," said Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday described the election as "deeply flawed" and said Washington "does not believe that the results …today represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people".

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague added own his "grave concerns" over the conduct of the vote in the former colony.

African and local observers raised concerns over the voters roll, the printing of extra ballot papers and the turning away of voters at polling stations.

In Harare's oldest township Mbare on Sunday, several hundred Mugabe supporters carried a white coffin draped in an MDC flag, with a red knotted scarf placed on top with the inscription "RIP Morgan".

"People are elated," said one of the marchers, Tatenda Savanhu (26), an economist.

"It's really a moment of joy that the GNU [coalition government] is now gone that we are going into an era of Zanu-PF".

In search of a smoking gun
Tsvangirai vowed to challenge the result in court and said the MDC would boycott government institutions.

"The fraudulent and stolen election has plunged Zimbabwe into a constitutional, political and economic crisis."

Tsvangirai defended his 2008 decision to enter the uneasy pact with Mugabe, who has had him arrested, beaten and charged with treason, saying it "rescued" Zimbabwe after years of meltdown.

But Mugabe's Zanu-PF party says there is no need for the MDC in the new government.

"We have received over 60% of the vote, we have two-thirds majority, why would we want to bring someone else on board?" said State Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi.

'All irregularities'
The MDC has until Saturday to present evidence of fraud to the constitutional court, but finding a smoking gun may prove difficult. The inauguration is expected within 48 hours of the court's decision.

Tsvangirai said he would submit a dossier of "all irregularities and all the illegalities" to the influential 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) and called for an urgent summit.

The European Union, which had been moving toward easing long-standing sanctions, has expressed concern.

But Emmerson Mnangagwa, defence minister and a key Mugabe lieutenant, said the result was a game-changer.

"The West will now have to climb down, they must find a ladder and climb down… A democratic election has taken place in Zimbabwe," he said.

Jumping to conclusions
SADC mission leader Advocate Notemba Tjipueja told a press conference last week that SADC, which engineered the power-sharing government, considered the vote to have been "free and peaceful".

But top SADC election observer Bernard Membe said: "We did not say it was fair… we didn't want to jump to a conclusion."

The resignation of one of the nine official electoral commissioners over "the manner" in which the polls "were proclaimed and conducted" further tarnished their credibility.

But Harare-based political analyst Blessing Vava said Western concerns mean little to African guarantors, having already given the polls the nod. "The issue of Zimbabwe is over and done with."

The criticism will be of little concern to Mugabe, said Vava. "He will not care much with what the West will say, this is the reason why they were not invited to observe elections in the first place." – Reuters, AFP


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