Amidst the speculation and rumour surrounding the Zimbabwean election and its aftermath, it's impossible to know for sure if any account of the deliberations inside the ruling group is entirely accurate. I introduce the report below by R.W. Johnson with that caveat. Even if it's approximately accurate, it is hard not to be struck by the bizarre nature of what is now going on:
The Sunday Times has learnt the inside story of what happened last Sunday, the day after the poll. By Sunday afternoon the theoretically independent Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the body under Justice George Chiurshe which is charged with conducting the elections, communicated its initial estimates of the result to the Zanu-PF politburo: Tsvangirai 58%, Robert Mugabe 27% and Makoni 15%. These estimates were based on too narrow an urban sample and were too favourable to Tsvangirai and his MDC, but the message was clear: Mugabe had lost. The politburo, particularly Mugabe himself, hit the roof.And you can read more of all that here. The key players don't like the outcome of the procedure that Zimbabwe has just gone through. So they think about manipulating it, even though to do so makes it worthless from the point of view of conferring legitimacy. Some of the players understand this and advise that it shouldn't be too severely manipulated, as doing that will convince no one; it should be manipulated just a bit. The world waits and watches. Everyone suspects that something like this must be going on. From 'sources' we learn that something like this probably is going on. Those who wish to benefit from manipulating the result act as if they are quite deluded. They think someone will be taken in by this grotesque farce. Or they don't care. Or perhaps they are cosmic dramatists.
According to an account sourced to a commission official, Mugabe then ordered it to declare him elected with 53%. He was angry at Makoni's "treachery" and demanded that his vote be reduced to 5%.
This produced resistance from the commission and also from the army, police and intelligence chiefs.
The commission objected that manipulation of the results on such a huge scale would be too obvious, while the security chiefs were concerned that the country might become ungovernable if the popular will was so blatantly flouted.
At this stage Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president, took a hand - he was continuously on the phone from Pretoria and had his emissaries in Harare. Mbeki's overweening interest is to maintain Zanu-PF in power as a sister liberation movement of his own African National Congress. He fears a possible domino effect throughout southern Africa if a movement that had wrested power from the whites in a liberation war is seen to fail and perhaps then fall to bits.
However, Mbeki wants Mugabe to go. Instead, he would like Makoni to succeed - a younger, modernising technocrat who would, he hopes, restore both his party's and his country's fortunes.
Out of Mbeki's discussions came the notion that the results should be "adjusted" so that Tsvangirai was brought back under the 50% mark, perhaps to 47%-49%, while Mugabe could get 41% and Makoni 10%-12%.
With no candidate over 50% this would produce the necessity of a second-round runoff and Mugabe should then withdraw, leaving Zanu-PF to rally behind Makoni. Provided the security forces could be given a strong role in the way that the runoff was organised and conducted, Makoni could then be given just over 50% and Tsvangirai kept out.
As word spread into the South African media that Mbeki had been heavily engaged, his office quickly denied that he had been involved at all. By the end of the week Mbeki was publicly appealing for all sides to respect the vote, whatever it had been.
At a conference on progressive governance convened by Gordon Brown in Hertfordshire yesterday, Mbeki told the international community to wait for the full election results, saying it was not time for action. "No, it's time to wait," he said.
The proposal stitched together by Mbeki might have worked, provided the armed forces were willing to give Makoni some fairly muscular support.
"We were saved from this outcome," an MDC source said, "by our most reliable ally, Robert Mugabe, who absolutely refused to stand down."