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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Mugabe wins again in Zimbabwe, leaving rival greatly weakened
    Lydia Polygreen, The New York Times
    August 03, 2013

    View this article on The New York Times website

    President Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since it threw off white rule in 1980, won another term on Saturday as the official results were announced for last week’s hotly disputed election, defeating his main challenger with 61 percent of the vote and roaring back to secure his grip on power after having to share it for the past five years.

    The Zimbabwe Election Commission announced the results moments after the challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, denounced the voting, saying it had been rigged.

    “This fraudulent and stolen election has plunged Zimbabwe into a constitutional, political and economic crisis,” Mr. Tsvangirai, who won 33 percent of the vote, said in a news conference at his house. He demanded that a new election be held so that Zimbabweans could “freely and fairly elect a government of their choice” a step that a spokesman for Mr. Mugabe’s party, Zanu-PF, quickly rejected.

    Secretary of State John Kerry also cast doubt on the validity of the election in a statement on Saturday. “In light of substantial electoral irregularities reported by domestic and regional observers, the United States does not believe that the results announced today represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people,” Mr. Kerry said.

    But regional election observers suggested that any flaws were not serious enough to invalidate the voting.

    The victory was a stunning comeback for Mr. Mugabe. After the disputed 2008 election, in which he won fewer votes than Mr. Tsvangirai did, he was forced into forming a unity government. This time, Mr. Mugabe’s party won more than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, giving it a supermajority that can make changes to the country’s Constitution without votes from other parties.

    The election was also a vivid illustration of how Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, has been outmaneuvered and outfoxed at every turn by Mr. Mugabe, 89, a wily survivor who endured colonial rule, a brutal guerrilla war and multiple attempts to unseat him during his 33 years as Zimbabwe’s leader.

    “The party has been to blame for Zanu’s success across the board,” said Stephen Chan, a professor at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, who has written a biography of Mr. Mugabe. After the 2008 vote, the MDC agreed to work with Mr. Mugabe’s party, but did not become an equal partner.

    “What they got was a compromise deal that was almost worse than being in opposition,” Mr. Chan said.

    One of the party’s biggest missteps came in June, after Mr. Mugabe unilaterally declared that an election must be held by the end of July, just six weeks later, usurping Parliament. The MDC’s leaders were prepared to tell the heads of state who had gathered for the meeting of the Southern African Development Community, a regional trade bloc, that the party would boycott the election.

    But the regional leaders at the meeting persuaded Mr. Mugabe to agree to ask the country’s constitutional court for a two-week extension, and his main challenger for the presidency, Mr. Tsvangirai, agreed to go ahead with the election, according to Douglas Mwonzora, the MDC’s spokesman.

    The courts refused to extend the deadline, and a messy, rushed election was held on Wednesday.

    “We didn’t expect the Zimbabwean courts and Mr. Mugabe to go against the resolution of SADC,” Mr. Mwonzora said.

    It would turn out to be just one of a long list of miscalculations that have left the MDC., the most credible threat to Mr. Mugabe’s long rule, with not quite a third of the seats in Parliament and few options to contest the election results.

    Mr. Tsvangirai plans to go to court, but the higher courts in Zimbabwe are filled with Mr. Mugabe’s loyal appointees.

    The election results were a far cry from the 2008 vote, in which neither man won a majority. Mr. Tsvangirai then refused to participate in a runoff because of attacks that had killed hundreds of his supporters.

    The two men formed an uneasy unity government after the regional trade bloc, SADC, intervened. That government, which left Mr. Mugabe in place as president and installed Mr. Tsvangirai as prime minister, was supposed to last only 18 months.

    Instead it stretched on for nearly five years, during which time the economy stabilized with the introduction of the United States dollar as the national currency, and a new Constitution was written and passed in a referendum.

    But major overhauls of the armed forces and the police were left undone, and the MDC’s leaders were tarnished by allegations of corruption and an abiding perception, fairly or not, that they had grown comfortable with the trappings of power.

    Top Zanu-PF officials crowed over the size of their victory, dismissing the challenger’s claims that the vote was rigged.

    “They are a confused lot,” said Saviour Kasukuwere, a senior Zanu-PF minister, of the challengers. “They are not strategic. They are just a bunch of chancers. Their mantra was ‘Mugabe must go.’ But what else did they offer the people?”

    The voting last week was peaceful, but plagued with problems. The parties did not get a copy of the voters’ roll until the day before the vote, raising fears of fraud. Earlier versions had vastly underrepresented young urban voters, a major blow to the MDC, whose base is among young city dwellers.

    Election observers also noted that far too many extra ballots had been printed and that too many voters had been reported as needing assistance. Mr. Tsvangirai said that at one constituency where 17,000 people had voted, 10,000 had been assisted, a high rate of people needing help in a country with one of Africa’s highest literacy rates.

    Almost twice as many people voted in this election as in 2008, and according to the figures released by the election commission, Mr. Mugabe benefited most from the swell of new voters. His total number of votes doubled, while Mr. Tsvangirai’s level of support remained the same.

    Job Sikala, a leader of one of the breakaway factions of the MDC that boycotted the vote, said Mr. Tsvangirai and his allies had been naïve to expect that the election would be fair.

    “We noticed that the political playing field was tilted on behalf of Zanu-PF,” Mr. Sikala said. “We knew in advance what the result would be.”

    Indeed, by agreeing to enter into a power-sharing government after the 2008 election, which was marred by political violence, the MDC helped rescue Zanu-PF from its own excesses, Mr. Sikala said, echoing the views of many analysts.

    “The day they joined the inclusive government they resuscitated a decomposing, dead donkey,” Mr. Sikala said. “They gave Zanu time and legitimacy to regroup, re-energize and reorganize. Now they are back on top, and Tsvangirai is finished.”

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