The Truth About Zimbabwe's Last Election

Between the March 29 elections and the June 27 elections in Zimbabwe this year, Morgan Tsvangirai worked very closely with Simba Makoni in trying to find a solution to the quandry that the country found itself in. It is an untold but extremely interesting story.

Perhaps I should start by reminding the people that the provision for a run-off had never existed in the Zimbabwe electoral process before. Our system, modelled on the British system, was a "first-past-the-post" system, where, in a field of, say, 5 candidates, the one with the most votes would be declared president, even if his percentage was 28%, as happened with Mwanawasa in Zambia.

It was Mr Tsvangirai and the MDC-T who suggested to the facilitator, President Thabo Mbeki, that this system should be scrapped and replaced with the 50 plus one model. It was the main MDC who insisted that no one could say they had a mandate to rule the country if they did not get at more than 50% of the popular vote.

Rightly, you may ask why this was so. What purpose could Mr Tsvangirai possibly have for suggesting such a provision? The answer, my friends, is simple: self-interest. The split in the MDC left Mr Tsvangirai unsure just what amount of support he had in the country. He envisaged a situation where the breakaway faction would eat into a sizeable part of his support base. He was sure they would not get enough votes to beat him. At the same time, Mr Tsvangirai was also certain that Mugabe's vote would remain constant, which meant that he would continue winning the same number of votes he has won over the last two elections.And which meant, by Mr Tsvangirai's calculations, that he would most probably come second to Mr Mugabe, who would not get 50% of the vote.

The strategy then was to ensure that, when the votes where counted and Mr Tsvangirai came a close second to Mugabe, with MDC-M third, MDC Mutambara could then be eliminated from the equation through the 50 plus one provision.

Mr Tsvangirai calculated, quite correctly, that should he then go into a run-off with Robert Mugabe, supporters of MDC-M would be highly unlikely to vote for Mugabe. This way, Mr Tsvagirai calculated, he would then be ushered into the State House via the run-off.

While it is true that Mr Tsvangirai could not have foreseen a situation such as happened this year, I personally fault him for what transpired. If he had not tried to bend the rules in his favour on the basis of assumption and conjecture, if he had decided to let the voice of the people carry the day in that model, he would have made life difficult for the Commander-In-Thief Robert Mugabe on March 30.

Instead, Mr Tsvangirai's intervention in order to protect his own interest on the basis of conjecture became Mugabe's lifeline. Can you imagine the outcry if Morgan had won the majority in the absence of the 50 plus one model? Mugabe would still have delayed the results, yes. But for how long? And then what? The crisis would have been resolved with a couple of months instead of dragging out to this day as it has now.

Immediately after the March 29 election, I know for a fact that ZANU PF was in disarray, running hither and thither. Some very big names were ready to concede when it looked like Morgan had indeed won. Some indeed went so far as to informally contact the MDC-T. But ZANU PF quickly regrouped. Mugabe pointed out that there was no clear majority for Tsvangirai. Despite the uninformed talk of a "Junta" and the security forces, Mugabe never for a moment contemplated resigning or giving in. He was in control throughout the process. He is the one who regrouped his troops, taking advantage of the loophole Morgan had provided last year by asking for the 50 plus one constitutional ammendment. He saw the bolt-hole........and he bolted.

I bumped into Bright Matonga at the Sheraton as it became clear that there was going to be a run off and he was as clueless as the rest of the country. I have never seen a ZANU PF minister so despondent. He was defeated. I remember him asking, "Can't Simba endorse us?" I told him it was out of the question. Simba's position was that there would be no run-off. That run-off was a useless exercise, I told him. Matonga knew that Mugabe would never agree to cancel the run-off. He knew that if the run-off was held under the same conditions as March 29, Mugabe would lose hands down. And this was the source of the despondency I could see on his face. What he obviously did not know then was the shameless manner in which Mugabe had decided to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Despite the enormous pressure Makoni was put under to throw his weight behind one of the candidates, he maintained that the run-off was a waste of resources and should be cancelled. He decided that, should this advice be ignored, he would then announce an endorsement on the eve of the poll. I must admit that I was amazed at the principle of the Doctor. He stuck to his guns until it was clear that the run-off would go ahead.

Throughout this process, he was in contact with Morgan Tsvangirai. He tried and tried again to meet with Mugabe to put the case for cancelling the run-off forward, simply in the interest of saving the country, but Mugabe could now smell blood, was livid at his humiliation and wanted to press ahead and "teach the British and their puppet a lesson they will never forget." He refused to meet his former minister, a fact Makoni himself told the media at his last press conference before the run-off election.

Makoni did eventually draft a statement of endorsement for one of the candidates. On the morning of the very day he called a press conference to announce his endorsement, he got word that Morgan was pulling out. His movement had already sent out the invitation to the press for the presser. What to do? Cancelling was a non-starter. On the other hand, the invitation to the press had already said that a decision had been made and would be announced at the press conference.

Thinking that, with Morgan out of the race, Mugabe would have to be completely bonkers to go ahead on his own, Makoni decided not to announce his endorsement. Instead, he used the press conference to call for a transitional authority again, to reiterate his position that a free and fair poll was impossible and had to be cancelled.

The press were baffled. I remember Peta Thornycroft being very combative, as was Supa Mandiwanzira of Al Jazeera and John Nyashanu of the the SABC. They could not understand what was happening. They did not have the inside information that Makoni did. At the same time, Makoni could not announce Morgan's pullout before the MDC leader himself did. It was not his decision, although he knew it had been taken. He knew he would be savaged by the press for what they would inevitably see as an inexplicable position.

That, my friends, is only one of the inside stories of the election. I bring it up now because of the gross and wilful misunderstanding of what happened back then, a misunderstaing some people still use against Dr Makoni to this very day.

It is worth bearing in mind that whether Makoni had run or not, the result would have been the same. The people of Matabeleland would have chosen Arthur Mutambara' party. Morgan would have got the same number of votes. If anything, Makoni helped to galvanise the electorate, even those who favoured Morgan, because they could now smell blood. They had lost faith in the electoral process and a lot of them were not going to bother on March 29. With Makoni there, they saw the possibility of a split ZANU PF vote (a mistaken reading of the situation, something Zimbabweans are very good at, since every Tom Dick and Tendai think they are analysts) and decided to come out in their numbers for Morgan. That Morgan had sabotaged his own chances a year previously by suggesting the 50 plus one vote never entered their minds.

The rest, as we all know, was history.


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