Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Where to now, Zimbabwe?

Mad Bob could stay for another five years.

Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai announced he had withdrawn from Friday’s presidential run-off election after accusing the government of waging a violent campaign of intimidation.

The second round would have followed a disputed March 29 election in which official results showed Tsvangirai beat President Robert Mugabe, but not by enough votes to avoid the run-off.

Below are answers to some questions about the vote and what comes next:

Why did he pull out?

On the face of it, Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, appeared to be in a dominant position after defeating Mugabe in the first round. Tsvangirai said a free and fair election was impossible in the light of a campaign of violence and intimidation that he said was designed to keep Mugabe in power.

The MDC said at least 86 of its supporters have been killed since March. Western countries and human rights groups back the accusations .

What happens now?

Zimbabwe’s government says the run-off will proceed unless Tsvangirai formally notifies electoral officials in writing of his withdrawal. Mugabe would then be sworn in for another five-year term.

But he could face difficulties governing because the MDC won control of parliament in a parallel March election. Some of the results of that election have been challenged in court.

How will the world react?

African governments are unlikely to be as accommodating to Mugabe as they were in the past after several leaders and allies publicly criticised his government’s handling of the run-off campaign. Mugabe and his senior officials could be slapped with a new round of sanctions by the European Union , Britain and the US, which have criticised his authoritarian rule.

President Thabo Mbeki could face pressure to scrap his mediation to end the political crisis.

The Southern African Development Community, African Union and the UN could be forced to take tougher action to address the crisis, but what they would do is a more difficult question. Military intervention is not seen as an option while sanctions on supplies to Zimbabwe could hurt ordinary people.

Could there still be negotiations?

Media reports have said Mbeki was pushing for talks between the government and opposition on a government of national unity, though such an idea did not seem to have made much progress. Both sides would want to head such an administration.

Though South Africa said Tsvangirai had not ruled out negotiations, the bitterness between the two camps is such that they would be extremely difficult.

How will Zimbabweans be affected?

Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is likely to worsen, and analysts say there will be few prospects of serious political change as long as Mugabe remains in power. The exodus of migrants to neighbouring countries could accelerate, intensifying problems there – as the recent attacks on migrants in South Africa showed.

The US and other Western nations will withhold billions of dollars in development aid that had been promised if Mugabe was swept from power and a new government embraced democracy and free markets.

Will there be more violence?

The MDC and trade unions could take to the streets to protest against Mugabe’s government, prompting a backlash by security forces.

What does it mean for investment?

Investors have been showing keen interest in Zimbabwe as a country that could grow very quickly if the crisis is over.

If the election now leads to a continuation, or worsening, then it means such plans are likely to remain on ice.

How long will Mugabe stay in power?

Mugabe said recently he wanted to stay on until he was sure that it would be impossible to reverse his seizures of white-owned farms. Some believe that victory in the election could actually allow him to bow out sooner, by departing from a position of strength in favour of a hand-picked successor, and with the opposition in disarray.

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