SWRA ‘Hot Seat’ Interview: Elections in Zimbabwe

HOT SEAT INTERVIEW : Journalist Violet Gonda interviews political commentators Dr John Makumbe and Professor Brian Raftopoulos on the elections in Zimbabwe . Who will benefit more in a Presidential run-off and who stands to lose?

Violet Gonda: We welcome political commentators Dr. John Makumbe in Zimbabwe and Professor Brian Raftopoulos in South Africa . Hello there and thank you for joining us on the program Hot Seat.

: Hello Violet.

Violet: Now controversy has marred the elections in Zimbabwe as the main political parties are jostling for power. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change says its leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the Presidential election while ZANU PF has rejected these claims. Let me go first to Dr. Makumbe, what is your assessment of the situation right now?

John Makumbe
: It’s a bit confused Violet. It’s confused in the sense that for the first time in the history of Zimbabwe – 28 years – we have ZANU PF really in a tight spot as it were and really worried about loosing power and we also have a situation where the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is releasing results in dribs and drabs, and almost like it is afraid to announce the Presidential results – almost like they are anxious to give Robert Mugabe as much time in office as possible even though it sounds like the result will actually require that there be a run off. But the MDC has published results which show that Morgan Tsvangirai has won the contest.

: Will come back to that issue of the run off. What about you Professor Raftopoulos , how do you see things right now in Zimbabwe ?

Brian Raftopoulos
: Yeah I think that we are in a kind of a stalemate with a ruling party which has clearly lost the parliamentary elections and lost legitimacy of the electorate but is unwilling to really give up power at this stage; and an opposition party which has momentum behind it, the momentum of a free and fair election but is now facing a Security Establishment which is unwilling to let go of that power. So we are now waiting to see exactly how this Security Establishment wants to deal with this very dangerous situation and it certainly looks like there will be a run off. But I think if it’s a run off we are going to have a very different kind of environment, a much more repressive one, a much more violent one and if we think about the loss around the referendum in 2000 what happened in the aftermath of that, it might give us some idea of what the options for the ruling party are.

Violet: What are the options for the ruling party, what options exist for Robert Mugabe right now?

Raftopoulos : Look I think the options are clearly for him, first of all for them to release the results of the Presidential elections as soon as possible so that we can know what the official position is. And if he indeed he has lost -although even if the MDC figures are contradictory on this score – but if he has lost, to give up power peacefully and to facilitate a transition. The other of course is for him to massage those figures or and declare victory or to go into a run off and to carry out a much more violent campaign and to hang on to power. The latter option, the last option I think will be a disaster. Any option which keeps Mugabe in power will be a disaster for the country and in the long run even for his ruling party.

Violet: Dr. Makumbe what options do you think exists for the MDC?

Makumbe: I think the MDC has only one option and that is to re-emphasis that Morgan Tsvangirai won this election and he should be recognised and Robert Mugabe should either agree to a run off if he thinks Morgan Tsvangirai failed to win 50 + 1. But I think it is necessary for ZEC to release that final result and MDC will then be at liberty to say that’s not what we found but they are already saying that whatever results will be released by ZEC they will go with it and they are ready for a run off.

Violet: But who will benefit more in a run off and who stands to lose?

Raftopoulos : With the way the figures are playing right now, Simba Makoni’s people and Mutambara’s people are said to be anxious to support Morgan Tsvangirai in a run off and Robert Mugabe at the moment doesn’t have anyone or ZANU PF doesn’t have anyone wanting to work with ZANU PF. In fact just two days ago civil society issued a statement saying; “We urge all political formations other than ZANU PF to commit themselves to a situation where they will not work with or cooperate with anyone who violates the peoples’ rights or who use violence as a means of attaining political power and forcing people to do what they would rather not do.” Essentially they were saying that anyone who cooperates with ZANU PF will really be held in bad light.

Violet: Now Professor Raftopoulos do you agree with this because there are others who say that if there is a run off this is the last thing that Morgan Tsvangirai needs because Mugabe can use the state machinery to suppress the vote. What are you’re thoughts on that?

Raftopoulos : Ya I think that as things stand and just listening to ZANU PF Deputy Minister of Information Bright Matonga that if there is a run off the environment will be very different. I think the danger is that they will do anything now to retain power. So I think that one would have hoped this thing could have been settled and I think one of the ironies of this election is that as a result of the division in the MDC and the lack of cooperation on an election pact, there were 9 seats that were lost as a result of that division and this thing may well have been settled at this point already. But that being as it is I think we are in a situation where we are left to watch whether ZANU PF is going to adopt its usual violent strategy at a time like this.

Violet: On the issue of the split between the two MDC factions what do you think Morgan Tsvangirai should do in the event this goes to a run off?

Raftopoulos : Well I think clearly he needs to develop and I am sure he is already talking to the other formation of the MDC as well as to Simba Makoni. I think they need an agreement on how this pact will operate and I think that there is certainly a basis for this cooperation. I just think it’s now upto Morgan’s Statesmanship to take the lead and to lead this alliance into what could be another bruising battle.

Violet: Now Dr. Makumbe there is this other issue that is doing the rounds in Zimbabwe and it’s pretty difficult to actually get information because as you said earlier if only ZEC would release the results and then we could find out what the way forward is. But I understand that Mugabe is planning to use Presidential Powers to change the re-run from 21 days to 90 days, what have you heard about this?

Makumbe: Yes there is a lot of speculation about that. One of the things with Zimbabwe at the moment is that there are a lot of rumours, there is a lot of gossip going around so it becomes very difficult to know what the difference is between a true or authentic report and what a rumour or a baseless rumour or gossip is. For example it was rumoured on the first day the counting began that Sabina Mugabe (Mugabe’s sister) had died and people were laughing it off and saying she died of shock because ZANU PF was losing power (laugh). But to answer your question, it is rumoured and very strongly so, that Robert Mugabe is playing around with the possibility of using the Presidential Powers Temporary Measures Act to change the law – The Electoral Act – where it says a run off within 21 days it would then read a second run off of voting within 90 days.

90 days will give Robert Mugabe a lot of time to plan and manipulate the electoral process; it will also give him time to deploy the war veterans, the ZANU PF militia, the soldiers, and the CIO back into the field to whip up support. Above all it will give him time to rest. We understand he is really very tired after campaigning for the past 3-4 weeks; he is very tired. The man is 84 years old, here sometimes we say 84,000 years because here we talk mainly in thousands, but he’s 84 years old and he gets tired so he needed 3 months to do it again and that will be a real violation of the law. And I suspect very strongly that if that goes through the MDC will have a very difficult time, as Brian is saying, winning that second round.

Violet: But is it not realistic though to extend the days because is there enough time to have a re run in 21 days. Has the ZEC for example got the resources to hold another election in 21 days and get things like ballot boxes and inks?

: It is realistic, it is realistic. 21 days is really a lot of time to print ballots which have only two names and the ballot boxes which exist now can be emptied and the ballots package in a reasonable way for storage and the same boxes can be used for the run off.

: Do you agree Professor Raftopoulos that 21 days is enough time to hold the second round of Presidential elections?

Raftopoulos : Yes I think I do agree and I think it’s absolutely necessary that this is done as quickly as possible for the kind of psychic state of the nation. I think people are extremely desperate, extremely anxious to know what is going on and I think that the world is waiting to see what is going to happen. My sense is that it will take place towards the end of this month and at this stage I think it’s most likely to be that.

Violet: It also appears from the figures that we have seen, you know the parliamentary figures that Mugabe has support and that the MDC can claim victory but not landslide victory as we have seen with the results. Now is it possible that if Mugabe were to win in the run off can he be considered as having been legitimately elected? In other words doesn’t a run off have the risk of legitimising Mugabe in the eyes of the world, Professor Raftopoulos?

Raftopoulos : Look I think from the beginning the opposition and the civics have been saying this election process no matter what happens cannot have been free and fair. There have been huge problems with this result. It’s also clear that Mugabe and ZANU PF continue to have support. There is no doubt that they have a social base and that has to be contended. And indeed a run off which is done in a reasonably free and fair way could provide that legitimacy for Mugabe and indeed raise problems. But it is the issue that what Zimbabweans are demanding is an election which is not only seemed to be free and fair but is actually so in practice. I think if that were done it will indeed open up spaces in the political sphere which would take us forward.

: Dr. Makumbe on a different issue, some have said that people were voting for change and not necessarily the quality of the Members of Parliament – that their main concern was to remove Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF. What can you say about the calibre of the new parliamentarians? Do you think they really know the functions of the parliament – some of them?

: Ooh no, there are a lot of new Members of Parliament but not really only on the ZANU PF side but even on the MDC side there are a number of MPs from MDC who lost their seats particularly those from the Mutambara formation. That formation was almost wiped out, but what is interesting about that assertion is that even within ZANU PF there were voters who voted for a ZANU PF MP but they voted for Morgan Tsvangirai as President and that is one thing which has absolutely shocked ZANU PF to say; ‘Why were people voting for Morgan Tsvangirai at the Presidential level and voting a ZANU PF MP?’ In several constituencies where ZANU PF MPs won, in the same constituencies Morgan Tsvangirai beat Robert Mugabe at the Presidential level. And so there was really a desire for change and change was viewed as getting rigged not so much of ZANU PF but of Robert Mugabe. But if you look at it again in another way, why didn’t people vote for Simba Makoni who was actually saying you want ZANU PF you get it only it is roped in by another name and people again wouldn’t even bother to vote for Simba Makoni and his grouping they couldn’t even get one seat in parliament.

: What about the quality itself of the Members of Parliament do you think that they really know the functions of the parliament because some are saying people were not voting for quality but just for change?

: Well you can’t really say that because you don’t really know the quality of these people until you look at their CV. The truth of the matter is that this is going to be a much younger parliament. This is going to be a much better educated parliament than what we have had in fact for the past 28 years. Educated not so much in the number of people with PhDs but educated in the number of people with more than just O’levels. And then if you look at the senate which we had, there were literally grandparents who were literally just dragged to some room at Parliament and asked to say nice things about Robert Mugabe. It’s very different now from at least the few results that have come through. It’s going to be a real debating Chamber and that’s a much higher level. Again not too many PhDs, not too many highly educated people but nobody who will say I don’t understand what you are saying because you are saying it in English?

: Professor Raftopoulos do you think it is going to be a difficult parliament in terms of none of the political parties have the 2/3 majority and therefore it will be difficult for any party to actually railroad through bills or legislation. What are your thoughts on that?

: Yes I think obviously there is going to be a need for a lot of compromise but in the political structure that we have got the Presidency is the real centre of power and of course that is the danger of any President coming at this time – that very quickly after, if there is a change of Presidency the Constitutional reform process needs to come into play. Because obviously if Mugabe won a re-run in some way legitimate way then the real power will rest with the Presidency and not with the parliament and that will be the real danger of the gains of this period being eroded with very quickly.

: What are your thoughts of the future of the Mutambara MDC as critics say they made such a massive miscalculation and misjudged the situation in Zimbabwe ?

: Let me put it this way; I think obviously the losses in Matabeleland were a big blow for the formation and they have to look very carefully at the strategy and what has happened. At the same time I think it was a huge blunder not to go into this election with an election pact because as I said it cost at least 9 seats which were lost because of that division and it may well have been that Morgan could have had this 50 +1 percent already had that pact been done. So in some ways the victory of the Morgan Tsvangirai formation in terms of numbers is a pyrrhic one because we still have Mugabe there, and this Presidency now talking about a re-run. So one has to look at all aspects of this current situation and assess in due course what were the pros and cons of such a strategy.

Violet: And Dr. Makumbe what are your views on the future of the Mutambara MDC?

Makumbe: I think the fact that Arthur (Mutambara) didn’t run for the Presidency could work to their advantage in the sense that they could now really restart negotiations and restart talks to reunite the MDC. It will not benefit Morgan in the sense of this particular 50% + 1 which is needed but it will do a lot of good to the country and to the MDC as a party for all of them to belong to one party instead of two formations. But as Brian has said I think it was a miscalculation on their part. But those are the dynamics of politics also, I don’t really blame them, it is really the dynamics of politics. I think where a mistake may have been made was to commit themselves to supporting Simba Makoni in the pre-election period, in the campaigning period because they essentially were giving an impression ‘they are so alienated to Morgan Tsvangirai and his group they would rather support someone coming directly from ZANU PF’, and people are right now saying are they going to go with ZANU PF in which case ZANU PF will never be an opposition political party even if Morgan Tsvangirai wins the Presidential vote.

: What about on the issue of Simba Makoni, what are your views on the issue that there are some who say he galvanised this election and took votes away from Robert Mugabe, do you agree with this?

Makumbe: Yes I think Simba Makoni was the best thing that ever happened to MDC because he literally took – he split ZANU PF. Even if Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF refuse to accept the statement that ZANU PF is split, it is split and the catchment area for Simba Makoni’s support was really previously ZANU PF supporters. Morgan Tsvangirai may have actually suffered some loss in support but if that loss actually simply went to the Mutambara formation rather than to the Simba Makoni formation, there may be give and take areas here. But Simba Makoni’s galvanising of or splitting basically of ZANU PF gave Morgan Tsvangirai a wonderful opportunity to grab the largest slice of the cake and run with it.

Violet: And also still on you Dr. Makumbe people seem to be waiting for Mugabe to make up his mind and there seems to be no collective action like a strike or industrial action from the trade unions or the civic society. What are you doing as civic society on this particular issue?

John Makumbe: We are working very hard; we have been issuing press statements over and over – first of all urging the people to remain calm and to wait for ZEC to release the results. Morgan Tsvangirai in fact when he made his first appearance after the ballot after the voting, he actually appealed to the whole nation to wait until ZEC publishes the results and confirms them – even though his party was going to publish the results the following day – he urged the civil society, he urged the public to wait until ZEC publishes the results. That’s what we are doing. We are very much aware and mindful of the last few weeks in Kenya and we know that Zimbabwe cannot afford that situation. With violence we all lose and the regime is – as Mugabe said – has degrees in violence. And if people should go on strike or street demonstrations the regime will love to just come whipping or breaking bones, cracking skulls and say the President has declared a State of Emergency and therefore the elections – as the results which have been published have been nullified and the law actually allows Mugabe to nullify an election process. I think its Section 151 but I would have to check that. But it allows the President to nullify an election or to validate anything done in an election even if it might be in violation of that Electoral Act. And so we can’t take that risk we will wait until ZEC announces the results and we will either celebrate the victory for progressive forces or we will make decisions with regards to what other options we will have.

: Professor Raftopoulos we all know that the economy is in big trouble in Zimbabwe and many have said it cannot be revived with Mugabe in power. Now t here is International consensus that the will of the Zimbabwean people must be properly revealed and respected, what happens if it is not respected what help can Zimbabwe hope to get from the International Community

Brian Raftopoulos
: It is clear that any kind of Mugabe victoryhowever illegitimate or legitimate is going to continue the crisis in Zimbabwe . Mugabe and the regime have lost so much International legitimacy that it is very difficult for Mugabe and his party on his own to regain that. So I think the real danger of this run off is that Mugabe would do anything to win and then the economic and the political crisis will continue to deepen. And as bad as things are in Zimbabwe they can get worse, they can get a lot worse and that I think is the tragedy.

So one hopes that also the leaders in the region who have been really not very useful to the Zimbabweans over the last few years are able to take some positions which will intimate to Mugabe that in the best interest of the nation and Zimbabwe it’s really time that this thing was resolved in a way which can really be a prelude for national reconstruction both politically and economically.

Violet Gonda: Thank you very much Professor Brian Raftopoulos and Dr John Makumbe.

Comments and feedback can be emailed to violet@swradioafrica.com

Fri, April 4 2008 » Interviews

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