Peta Thornycroft, Telegraph (London), April 30, 2008
Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party has signalled that it is willing to accept that the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai came first in the country’s presidential election.
The Zimbabwe Election Commission has still not announced the results
But they insisted that, contrary to claims by his Movement for Democratic Change, he had falled short of the absolute majority required for victory.
More than a month after the poll, the Zimbabwe Election Commission has still not announced the results. Nonetheless senior government sources said that Mr Tsvangirai took 47 per cent, with President Robert Mugabe second on 43 per cent.
A top Zanu-PF official said: “Those figures are in line with the official figures and the MDC knows that the official tally is more or less around that but they have been inflating their numbers to claim a false victory.”
The ruling party’s willingness to concede a first-round lead to Mr Tsvangirai may be a sign that, having delayed the results and used the time to launch a campaign of violence against opposition supporters, it is now confident of winning a second round. It may also have been the best they could hope for if Mr Tsvangirai really did take more than 50 per cent and rigging has had to be employed to bring down his share of the vote.
According to Zimbabwe’s Lawyers for Human Rights about 150 teachers who acted as local presiding officers at the elections have been arrested and are being prosecuted accused of favouring the MDC.
In the days following the vote on March 29 sources in Harare said Mr Mugabe and the Zanu-PF hierarchy had been shocked by the fact and scale of his defeat. By throwing a blanket of silence over the results, it plunged the country into a political impasse and weakened the MDC’s momentum.
Mr Tsvangirai threatened to boycott a run-off, then said he would take part if UN-led observers were allowed. If he does not participate Mr Mugabe will be declared the winner by default, but a third candidate, the former finance minister Simba Makoni, will back Mr Tsvangirai, according to his campaign co-ordinator.
Zimbabwe’s election law says the second round must be held within 21 days of the first vote, but that deadline has already passed and it is not clear when it will take place.
The chairman of the election commission, George Chiweshe, is a Mugabe loyalist and sources close to the body said their figures were similar to the Zanu- PF officials’.
“We don’t have the final figure yet but at the last count we had between 48 and 50 percent” said one. Another said it was above 47 per cent, “but less than 50”.
On the basis of the Zanu-PF figures, Mr Tsvangirai’s share is at the very bottom of the margin of error found by the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which projected he had taken 49.4 per cent, plus or minus 2.4 per cent. By contrast Mr Mugabe’s share is at the top end of his estimate of 41.8 per cent, plus or minus 2.6 per cent.
The government has also promised to inject a note of reality into its bizarre economic policies, saying it would abandon its fixed exchange rate for a market in hard currency.
The destruction of Zimbabwe’s economy has left 80 per cent of people unemployed and was a key issue in the country’s election in March, which has thrown it into a political crisis as Mr Mugabe seeks to hold on to power, but analysts were sceptical about the announcement.
Officially one American greenback is worth 30,000 Zimbabwe dollars—a currency which traded at more than the US dollar at independence.
But on the black market the rate is 150 million to one, making the government rate almost meaningless—and some banknotes worth less than a sheet of lavatory paper.
Nonetheless the discrepancy is one of the drivers of Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation, now over 165,000 per cent according to the government, and businesses suffer by being forced to swap foreign currency earnings at far below their real value, wreaking further havoc on an economy already shattered by Mr Mugabe’s misrule.
In a statement on monetary policy, Gideon Gono, the governor of Zimbabwe’s central bank, said that authorised foreign exchange dealers would be allowed to match buyers and sellers.
He said the authorities were committed to taming the hyperinflation.
“This dragon cannot be allowed to continue and we will be dealing a decisive blow to its existence,” he said.
But the key issues of what the new exchange rate would be and whether a truly free market would be allowed to operate remained unclear.
John Robertson, an independent economist based in Harare, pointed out the language being used was similar to when an auction system was proposed a few years ago.
“They very quickly stepped in to stop the auction price being anywhere near the market price, and very quickly the market was not being supplied with foreign currency any more. I think they are going to interfere in exactly the same way again.
“There’s a basic philosophy in government that there’s no market so powerful they can’t legislate it out of existence, and of course the market always does predominate.” The highest ranks of Mr Mugabe’s regime, who can buy US dollars at the official rate, had too much to lose from a free market in hard currency, he pointed out.
“They give themselves the privilege of buying very cheap foreign currency. The ones who do have all become very rich on that gap. It’s immensely rewarding to them and they don’t really care very much about the suffering of the rest of the population.” Another economist, who did not want to be named, added: “While this move may temporarily stall the rate as people try and work out what is going on, it’s not going to last.”