Mugabe’s party to challenge Zimbabwe election results

Times Staff Writer

As dozens of riot police patrolled the capital Friday, President Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party announced that it would contest the election results for 16 parliamentary seats, enough to overturn a landmark opposition victory.

The party’s politburo also endorsed Mugabe to fight opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a runoff for the presidency. Although opposition officials say they believe Tsvangirai won the election, they say they will participate in a runoff if official results indicate he received less than the required 50% plus one vote.

The ZANU-PF strategy, according to sources close to the party, is to delay a second round of voting beyond the required 21 days to 90 days. Many fear that such a move would result in violence and intimidation as was seen in previous elections, when opposition activists were beaten, harassed and sometimes killed.


Although many ruling party figures are concerned that Mugabe’s support could decline further in the second round of voting, as people sense his power waning, hard-liners are hoping he will emerge victorious. He would then be in a position to pick his successor.

The voting last weekend confounded predictions: Analysts and diplomats had expected Mugabe to win narrowly because of gerrymandering and his control of the state media and government machinery. But Zimbabweans fed up with a 100,000% inflation rate, 80% unemployment, economic collapse and poverty, repudiated the ruling party, which lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in its 28 years in power.

Independent projections by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, based on a 5% voting sample, slated Mugabe to lose the presidential ballot and predicted a runoff. Official results are not expected for several days.

Even with Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, poised in the wings and intense pressure from southern African countries on Mugabe to accept the results, ruling party supporters have balked at going quietly.

Many Mugabe backers loathe Tsvangirai and are contemptuous of his lack of liberation war credentials. More than anything, they fear losing their farms, businesses and trappings of power accumulated since Mugabe took office in 1980. Many Mugabe supporters also fear prosecution for past crimes.

After the deeply flawed elections in 2002 and 2005, the opposition failed to mobilize sustained street protests in the face of violent reprisals by authorities.


But some observers believe that this time it might be hard to contain the anger at Mugabe and his regime.

There have been many signs that people’s fear is ebbing. The day after the March 29 vote, opposition activists drove around rural polling stations in what had been ruling party heartland areas, gleefully noting the expressions of dumbfounded horror on the faces of their rivals.

When the results began to emerge, the activists were out beating drums, singing and dancing into the early hours of the morning, which would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.

In Harare, people are seen openly wearing Movement for Democratic Change T-shirts, once a daring act that would have resulted in a beating from police officers.

But the regime’s answer to the mood of popular optimism is already becoming apparent: Friday morning, several groups of riot police with helmets and batons patrolled Harare. Water cannons and trucks carrying dozens of riot police were also spotted.

In a sign of the mobilization of Mugabe’s traditional allies, dozens of veterans of the liberation war against white-minority rule marched Friday in central Harare.


There are suggestions from veterans, some closely allied to the ruling party, that the so-called “green bombers,” pro-Mugabe youth militias responsible for much of the terror after 2000, may return in coming weeks.

Named for their green berets, the green bombers used to conduct house-to-house raids, harassing and beating opposition supporters, or burning down their homes.

“They’re still out there,” said one veteran not aligned with the ruling party. “They are being reinvigorated now. Many of them were given jobs in the police and the army. They are going to be coming back.”

Another war veteran now allied with the third presidential candidate, ruling party defector Simba Makoni, said, “There are people who will go to any length to return Mugabe.

“It’s mainly the people who won their seats and expected to be given government jobs. Those guys and their supporters are very dangerous. They’ll bring back the green bombers in the runoff. They’ll pay them in U.S. dollars,” he said.

The people facing the brunt of any violence would probably be MDC members who wrested parliamentary seats from ZANU-PF in its former bastions.


In 2000 and 2002, the government arrested and tortured opposition activists, using water torture, electric shocks and beatings. Mugabe launched his crackdown after losing a 2000 referendum on the constitution, the first real threat to his power. Some activists were killed, or they disappeared. White farmers were terrorized and chased from their land by war veterans, with the encouragement of Mugabe.

In 2005, shortly after the parliamentary elections, Mugabe launched Operation Murambatsvina, or “Clean Away the Filth,” in which shacks were razed and about 700,000 people were uprooted from urban opposition strongholds and sent into the countryside.

In March last year, the violence began again: Tsvangirai and more than 100 activists were rounded up and beaten. Some were framed by police and accused of bombing police stations, trains and other targets; courts later found the evidence had been concocted by police.

The violence in 2007 followed the pattern of the 2005 election: a violent crackdown a year before the poll was followed by relative peace during the election campaign when African observers were present.

The stance of the military will continue to be crucial to Mugabe’s hold on power. Many commanders are weary of him and the rampant economic difficulties that mean they can barely feed soldiers, let alone train them properly. Even so, the generals are seen as unlikely to disobey direct orders.

The military rank and file, however, are deeply disaffected. Many have defected to South Africa rather than remain in Zimbabwe, living on paltry salaries. The exodus probably will gain pace.


“The entire cupboard is bare,” said one diplomat, referring to the economy. “We are in the death throes of this regime but it just won’t go. There’s no one around to put the stake in its heart.”