Zimbabwe coup danger

2008-06-26 00:00

The decision last week of Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), to withdraw from the second-round presidential election in Zimbabwe has acted as a catalyst. Robert Mugabe, together with a compliant Electoral Commission, is determined to go ahead with the sham event, but the rest of the world, including Africa, has seen through the bluster and the bluff.

There is pressure from some quarters for a delay in the poll until conditions have improved to the extent of allowing a free and fair election to take place. While Mugabe remains in control, it is unlikely that conditions will ever improve. Even if they did and the MDC leader was elected, there remains a real danger of a military coup given the fact that senior generals in the army and the police have stated that they will not serve an MDC government.

In the elections of March 29 a new parliament was elected with a majority of members representing the MDC. The new members have still not been sworn in by Mugabe as president, with the result that no legislative work is being done. Some of Mugabe’s ministers were de-feated at the polls, yet they are still in office. Such is the contempt shown by Mugabe and his Zanu-PF for due democratic process.

Difficult though it will be, the answer lies in mediation and it is encouraging to note that Tsvangirai, even though he has had to take refuge in Harare’s Dutch embassy for fear of his life, has indicated that he is willing to engage in talks. Thabo Mbeki’s role as mediator on behalf of the South African Development Community (SADC) is now too tarnished for him to continue. A leader of the stature of Kofi Annan needs to be brought in, strongly backed by pressure on Mugabe from the entire SADC and the African Union and United Nations.

Negotiated compromises are not ideal when elections have been stolen or subjected to intimidation and violence by the ruling party, but the alternatives for Zimbabwe at present are a good deal worse.

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