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Mugabe's real election victory: an opposition split down the middle
Tony Hawkins
November 30, 2005

President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party claimed a "landslide victory" at last weekend's Senate elections but political and business analysts yesterday were uniformly downbeat at the outcome. In the words of one senior banker, who declined to be named: "The voters were either apathetic or supported the opposition's call for a boycott, the opposition is split down the middle, while the diplomatic community admits that it has run out of ideas on what to do next." On the face of it, President Mugabe's Zanu PF won a handsome victory, taking 19 of the 26 contested seats in the upper chamber. Its candidateswere returned unopposed in another 24 seats, giving it 43 of the 50 elected seats. Mr Mugabe will nominate six members and traditional chiefs, who support the government, will select 10 from their number giving the ruling party 59 of the 66 seats. But despite securing so many seats, this was hardly a landslide. The voter turnout was abysmal - an estimated 15 per cent, the lowest since independence 26 years ago. With the opposition Movement for Democratic Change split over whether or not to contest the election, the Zimbabwe president must have hoped for a more enthusiastic turnout by his supporters.

The opposition faction that rejected MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai's boycott call, also performed dismally, winning just seven seats - all of them in Matabeleland where the MDC has always had more support than the government. The turnout in Matabeleland was even lower than elsewhere in the country and in one constituency with 75,000 registered voters, the MDC candidate won the seat by polling fewer than 3,000 votes. Even as the votes were being counted, the anti-boycott faction convened a meeting of MDC officials to suspend Mr Tsvangirai as party leader pending a disciplinary inquiry into his decision to overrule the party's national council that voted narrowly last month to participate in the election. The MDC leader - who arrived at the party headquarters yesterday defying those seeking his suspension - appears to have read the public mood far better than his rivals. "We have been vindicated. We were proved right in our assessment of the national sentiment," he said, stressing that he would ignore efforts by his detractors within the MDC to use the party constitution or the courts to oust him as leader.

"We must change gears from discredited election processes that bring pain to our people to an era of democratic mass confrontation with the dictatorship - an era of non-violent mass resistance," he said. Mr Tsvangirai, however, has a serious credibility problem. Several times in the past he has promised non-violent mass action, but each time his call to the people to take to the streets has flopped. Given this dismal background, it is hardly surprising that those anxious to find a way out of the Zimbabwe maze, including South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, are at their wits end. With Mr Tsvangirai describing differences within the MDC as "irreconcilable", any hope that Mr Mbeki might once have nurtured of getting Mr Mugabe to set up a transitional government of national unity have been dashed. And with the US and Australian governments calling the Senate poll "irrelevant" and "a non-event", there is no hint of any western initiative to try to break the logjam. In the Harare banker's words: "This is the nightmare Myanmar option - we will become a non-country."

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