Tsvangirai May Face Internal Challenge After Vote Loss

Morgan Tsvangirai’s rise from labor leader to Zimbabwe prime minister and presidential contender ended last week in his heaviest ever electoral defeat at the hands of Robert Mugabe. Now some analysts believe he may have to quit politics.

The July 31 election, in which President Mugabe, 89, won 61 percent to 34 percent and his party gained a two-thirds majority in parliament, was the third time Tsvangirai lost to the only leader Zimbabwe has known since independence in 1980. His allegations of vote rigging, echoed by the U.S., the U.K. and local monitors, found little support among most African nations, which endorsed the vote as credible.

“People are now saying he lost this election very badly, he shouldn’t have gone into it knowing that there was no even playing field,” Gilbert Khadiagala, a professor in international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said Aug. 7 in an interview. “There is essentially a crisis of leadership now. You need a new leader.”

In almost 14 years as head of the Movement for Democratic Change, Tsvangirai, 61, has endured repeated arrests, police beatings and a treason trial after he was accused of plotting to assassinate Mugabe in 2002. He served under Mugabe as prime minister in a power-sharing government after disputed elections in 2008.

Political Violence

While he won more votes than Mugabe in the first-round vote that year, Tsvangirai pulled out of a run-off after he said as many as 200 of his supporters died in a wave of political violence. The region’s political bloc, the 15-member Southern African Development Community, brokered the deal for the unity government. It endorsed last week’s vote as free and peaceful, while withholding comment on its fairness.

Questioned about whether he would step aside, Tsvangirai told reporters at his residence in Harare, the capital, on Aug. 3 that he had the “full backing” of his party and the public. “We did not lose this election,” he said. “This is not a personal issue, this is a national issue.”

While thousands of his supporters were turned away from polling stations last week because they were not on the voters’ registry, Mugabe’s supporters were bussed in and issued with voting slips without having to register, Tsvangirai said on Aug. 2. Tsvangirai’s votes declined slightly, as Mugabe won almost twice as many as he did five years ago, according to official figures.

‘Deeply Flawed’

Local observers and western governments joined Tsvangirai in criticizing the conduct of the vote. The U.S. called it “deeply flawed,” and the U.K. said it had “grave concerns over the conduct of the election.”

Mugabe dismissed the concerns.

“The enemy is he who is behind Tsvangirai, who is behind the MDC,” Mugabe told party members in Harare today. “The British and their allies.

The MDC was formed in 1999, handing Mugabe his first polling defeat the next year when it successfully campaigned against a new constitution. Springing out of the labor union movement in Harare, the party won massive support in urban areas, where more than 40 percent of the population lives.

At the end of the latest election campaign, tens of thousands of supporters wearing the party’s red color and using its open-palmed hand signal attended Tsvangirai’s final campaign rally at the foot of Zanu-PF’s Harare headquarters.

The MDC ‘‘saw a lot of people at their rallies and assumed they were voters which wasn’t the case,” Trevor Maisiri, a researcher at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said in an interview in Harare. “They thought the level of their support would overcome the level of fraud. They were overconfident. The MDC is very weakened as an opposition party.”

Parliamentary Decline

Having won 100 seats in 2008, the MDC was left with 49 in parliament. It will also gain a share of 60 new spots reserved for women and allocated according to what percentage of the vote each party took in each province.

Under the power-sharing government, the party helped return the economy to growth after seven years of recession and bringing the inflation rate to single digits after peaking at what the the International Monetary Fund said was 500 million percent in 2008. Finance Minister Tendai Biti formalized the previously illegal use of multiple currencies. The central bank yesterday said it has no immediate plans to reintroduce the national currency.

The main index on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange fell 1 percent today, bringing its decline since Mugabe’s victory to 13 percent. Most banks in the country have stopped issuing new loans because of concern over policy, two chief executive officers said Aug. 7, declining to be identified because they didn’t want to anger the government.

MDC Divisions

The MDC has been wracked by divisions for years. A faction split over a dispute in the party’s approach to Senate elections in 2005. Another MDC grouping contested last week’s poll against Tsvangirai’s party. That split the party’s vote in several constituencies, costing it seats in parliament.

Tsvangirai said he realized that the MDC’s plan to challenge the election results in court probably won’t yield results because the judiciary is “compromised” by appointments made by Mugabe.

While Zanu-PF has been preparing for this election since its loss in the 2008 vote, the MDC has rested on its laurels, according to Dumisani Nkomo, the Chief Executive Officer of Habakkuk Trust, a Christian community development organization.

“The MDC should be sober and review how ZANU-PF outfoxed them,” Nkomo said in an interview from the southern city of Bulawayo. “There is no time to mourn. This idea of appealing and going to court is a waste of time. Instead, they should plan and strategize for the next elections”

Biti, the MDC’s secretary-general Biti has been the person most-often cited as a possible new party leader. Many voters believe Tsvangirai remains the MDC’s best option.

“Politics is a dirty game,” Joe Mbesa, 32, said in between washing cars in Harare’s Warren Park area. “Morgan is OK. It’s not his fault.”

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