Sunday, April 06, 2008


By Grant Ferrett - BBC News, Johannesburg.

Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF has for several days been on the defensive. In the face of the party's defeat in parliamentary elections, losing its majority for the first time in 28 years of independence, the leadership had nothing to say in public.
Requests for interviews were summarily dismissed. In private, Zanu-PF was trying to work out how to respond to a serious and unexpected blow.

Joyce Mujuru is thought to have led a faction seeking to replace Mr Mugabe.
Although the results of the presidential election had not been officially released, Zanu-PF knew the outcome.
Its candidate, President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, had failed to pass the 50% barrier needed to avoid a second-round run-off.
The 84-year-old president had never before come close to losing other elections, according to the official results.
What is more, with the independent candidate Simba Makoni out of the running after trailing a distant third place, in the next round of voting Mr Mugabe would face a single opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai.
If the results of the parliamentary ballot were to be replicated, President Mugabe would lose.
The broad choice facing the Zanu-PF bosses was a simple one: unite once again behind the man who helped the country win independence and keep the party in power for almost three decades, or abandon him.
Past outweighs the future
Zanu-PF has split badly in recent years. The Vice-President, Joyce Mujuru, is thought to have led a faction seeking to replace the party's ageing leader.

A former finance minister, Mr Makoni went so far as to stand against Mr Mugabe for the presidency.
The divisions clearly helped to undermine the party's performance at the polls.
Mr Mugabe is likely to have told the politburo that the lesson was a clear one: the party had to rally around him and stand firm against what he calls "Western stooges" of the opposition, or face defeat in the run-off for the presidency.
"There's little that can be done but stay in and fight," said Didymus Mutasa, one of Mr Mugabe's closest and most loyal aides.
He pointed out that Zanu-PF won the most votes of any single party in the parliamentary vote, and would clinch a second-round victory in the presidential poll.
In effect, the past outweighed the future.
The risk of a humiliating defeat at the hands of an emboldened opposition was outweighed by the need to show loyalty.

Campaign posters are being taken down.
Enlarge Image

Put more crudely, members of the politburo do not tell Robert Mugabe what to do; he tells them.
So he will stand in the second round, if - as expected - the electoral commission show the need of a second round.
The strategy for the campaign ahead is likely to be based on the one employed for the year 2000, the last time Mr Mugabe's authority was seriously challenged.
Hard-line party supporters, known as the war veterans, are likely to be deployed.
Their reputation for violence is well-deserved.
In the first round of the vote, they were conspicuously absent.
Even as the politburo met to consider its plans at Zanu-PF headquarters in the capital, Harare, several hundred war veterans marched through the centre of the city with a police escort.
Intimidation is also likely to be a part of the second round.
Offices used by the opposition were ransacked on Thursday night. Two foreign nationals accused of violating the country's media laws have been detained.
A non-governmental organisation worker involved in promoting democracy was detained as he tried to leave Zimbabwe.

Mr Mugabe was said to be ready to fight 'to the last'.
Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga has talked of "unleashing" greater effort in the political fight to come.
Given that towns and cities have long since been lost to the opposition, Zanu-PF will once again be relying on it traditional supporters in rural areas to go out and vote in overwhelming numbers.
But with the economy in meltdown and the land redistribution card already played, Mr Mugabe and his party have little to offer.
Appeals to loyalty, combined with intimidation and violence are likely to be key components of what could well be a turbulent campaign.
But will the party which Robert Mugabe has utterly dominated for so long back his campaign?
Mr Mugabe ensured that the presidential and parliamentary elections were held simultaneously in March precisely to ensure that his fortunes and those of the wider party were tied up together.
With the parliamentary elections now over, it is possible that Zanu-PF MPs will step back, and leave their president to campaign alone.
What is more, many Zimbabweans who previously felt their votes did not count may feel emboldened to cast their ballots in the second round after watching Zanu-PF lose its majority in parliament.
In one of his last rallies before the vote in March, Mr Mugabe was asked if he was confident of victory.
He replied with a single utterance: "Overconfident."
He is unlikely to make that mistake again.



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