Mugabe Aides in Talks to Cede Power in Zimbabwe Elections
Tuesday , April 01, 2008
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Advisers of Zimbabwe's president and main opposition leader are discussing Robert Mugabe relinquishing power, The Associated Press learned Tuesday from a businessman close to the state electoral commission and a lawyer close to the opposition.
The businessman said Mugabe, who in 28 years in power has gone from independence hero to accused despot, has been told he is far behind Tsvangirai in preliminary results from Saturday's presidential elections. Mugabe was told there could be an uprising if he were declared the winner.
Both sources spoke on condition they were not identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Several diplomats said they had heard similar reports but could not corroborate the information. Asked about the report in a telephone call, Tendai Biti, secretary-general of Tsvangirai's party, said, "It's rubbish," and hung up.
Zimbabwe's opposition MDC party denied reports it was in negotiations with the governing ZANU-PF on a handover of power by Mugabe, Reuters reports.
Zimbabwe's security chiefs have told the Electoral Commission to issue results portraying a close race, to prevent celebrations that could ignite violence with rival party militants, the businessman said.
Political analyst John Makumbe said he had learned from military sources that they would honor the results of the elections. That would indicate a change of heart since the security chiefs the day before the elections warned they would not serve anybody but Mugabe and would not tolerate an opposition victory.
Tsvangirai on Tuesday postponed his first public statement since the elections until later in the day. His spokesman George Shibotshiwe said that was because the opposition party had received "a tremendous breakthrough in the numbers coming in" from Saturday's voting.
The opposition already has claimed victory in the elections that hinged on the destruction of the economy with people suffering to survive inflation soaring beyond 100,000 percent.
Tsvangirai has vowed not to entertain an alliance with Mugabe but has said previously that he is ready to negotiate an exit package for Zimbabwe's ruler for 28 years. He also has said that Mugabe should be tried for human rights abuses, possibly in an international court.
It appeared Mugabe was persuaded into talks by the possibility of a runoff presidential race, which the businessman said he would find too demeaning.
In a statement late Monday, the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network said that according to its random representative sample of polling stations across the country, Tsvangirai won just over 49 percent of the vote. A presidential candidate needs at least 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.
A runoff would have to be held within 21 days, leaving it close to the 28th anniversary of independence on April 18, 1980. Mugabe, who led a guerrilla movement that fought a seven-year war to end white minority rule, regards the anniversary as a potent symbol of his rule.
Mugabe would have to weigh the concerns of those who have profited from his patronage, a group that includes top military leaders, party officials and business people. They receive mining concessions, construction contracts and preferential licenses to run transport companies and other businesses.
Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African Parliament observer mission, told South African radio Tuesday that leading members of Mugabe's party were contemplating defeat with trepidation.
"I was talking to some of the big wigs in the ruling party and they also are concerned about the possibility of a change of guard," Khumalo said. "ZANU-PF has actually been institutionalized in the lives of Zimbabweans, so it is not easy for anyone within the sphere of the ruling party to accept that 'Maybe we might be defeated or might have been defeated."'
At independence, Mugabe was hailed for his policies of racial reconciliation and development that brought education and health to millions who had been denied those services under colonial rule. Zimbabwe's economy thrived on exports of food, minerals and tobacco.
The unraveling began when Mugabe ordered the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms, ostensibly to return them to the landless black majority. Instead, Mugabe replaced a white elite with a black one, giving the farms to relatives, friends and cronies who allowed cultivated fields to be taken over by weeds.
Today, a third of the population depends on imported food handouts. Another third has fled the country as economic and political refugees and 80 percent is jobless. Life expectancy has fallen from 60 to 35 years and shortages of food, medicine, water, electricity and fuel are chronic.
The economy is in dramatically worse shape than during past elections, driving other changes in Zimbabwe's political landscape. The candidacy of former Mugabe loyalist and Finance Secretary Simba Makoni, a distant third according to the independent projection, drew open support from other leaders in the ruling party, brought divisions among the elite into the open.
Nudging from Zimbabwe's neighbors also has helped, neighbors that are contending with the flood of millions of refugees, most illegal.
The opposition figures come from results ordered to be posted on the doors of the 9,000 polling stations in the country. This initiative, part of an agreement between the parties negotiated by South African President Thabo Mbeki, was new and could make it more difficult to cheat.