Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who will endorse who, in the run-off?

It is becoming more likely that the March 29 presidential election in Zimbabwe will not produce an outright (more than 51%) winner between incumbent President Robert Mugabe (84) and his two challengers, former Finance Minister, Dr. Simba Makoni and MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Thus, a never used constitutional provision for a second round run-off between the two leading candidates is more than likely to be invoked.

This has opened a new question that is not yet being debated but will soon be on everyone’s lips. The question is: If any of the three candidates comes third, who, of the remaining two will he endorse?

There is no simple answer to this question. First, we have to consider the candidates’ electorate.

Mugabe is likely to win among his rural base mostly in the Mashonaland provinces. But he will not take Matabeleland and will lose in parts of Midlands, Masvingo and Manicaland.

Tsvangirai will carry most of Harare, about a third of Manicaland, a piece of Masvingo and Midlands and a tiny bit of the vote in Matabeleland.

Makoni will share Harare with Tsvangirai, a third of Manicaland, a few seats in Masvingo, a third of the spoils in Midlands and most, if not all, of the votes in Matabeleland where he should reap the rewards of being endorsed by the Mutambara faction of MDC.

That leaves the country divided in three almost equal parts with no clear winner. Many expect Mugabe to come up with a tiny lead, followed by either Makoni or Tsvangirai.

Now, it may seem simple enough to assume that if Makoni comes third, he will endorse Tsvangirai because he stood up to run specifically against Mugabe, not Tsvangirai. It can also be assumed that Tsvangirai will endorse Makoni because he would consider him a better devil.

Although no one expects Mugabe to come out third, should people determine so, convention would expect him to endorse Makoni because he came out of his party and has clearly said he will not seek retribution against the veteran nationalist.

But Zimbabwean politics is not as straight forward as that and nobody can predict what will happen until it happens, just like nobody expected Makoni to run until he actually did.

But there is no harm in speculating
Mugabe is not prepared to lose. He has conditioned himself to rule Zimbabwe until he dies, so much as he might anticipate the annoyance of being forced into a run-off, he does not consider himself coming out last. That means he is not thinking of who to endorse.

In any case, Mugabe will never be expected to accept defeat just like that and happily endorse Makoni or Tsvangirai. If he cannot rig his way back into State House, he will most certainly cause chaos, perhaps of a military nature because he clearly has the army in his pocket.

However, if circumstances force him to give way after the first round, he is most likely to throw a tantrum and refuse to endorse anyone and his supporters will then make their own choice.

Tsvangirai too does not expect to come out third in the first round. At the least, he expects to come out second to Mugabe and much as he dismisses Makoni’s overtures for an alliance, he will need his fellow Manyika’s endorsement to defeat Mugabe in the run-off.

But should what he thinks is unrealistic happens and he comes out third, he too is not going to roll over and give his blessings to either Makoni or Mugabe. He is so ready for State House that a defeat in the first round will leave him so bitter that he will most likely refuse to accept the results and seek the intervention of the international community – Kenyan style.

But if push comes to shove (particularly if his supporters and financial backers force him to endorse someone) he will grudgingly throw his weight behind Makoni, but not without a firm deal of some influence in the new government. There is simply no way he will back Mugabe and even if he did, Mugabe is likely to throw the endorsement right back into his face.

So, if Makoni comes third, who will he endorse? Convention would say Mugabe because Simba is still Zanu PF at heart and a loss for him and a win for Mugabe would indicate that the Zanu PF support he banked on is non-existent.

Besides, people who are going to vote for Makoni are those who are disgruntled by both Mugabe and Tsvangirai, so the former minister’s endorsement of one or the other may not make much of a difference as the voters will simply go back to their old parties or just stay away.

But then again, if Makoni sees himself as a leader of the future like most people see him, he will look beyond 2008 and start preparing for the next contest. That then, might persuade him to endorse Tsvangirai in the hope that if the MDC leader wins the run-off, he will make it easy for Makoni to form a new party to launch his own bid in the next election.

Well, there might even be other considerations and permutations I could not think of here but are, no doubt, in other people’s minds.

The bottom line: If it were not for Makoni’s entry into this election, all these possibilities would not even be on the table.

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