Johannesburg - The chances of Morgan Tsvangirai winning the presidential election on July 31 in the first round of polling have never been better, many analysts believe, even if surveys- now, though, a year old, seem to tell a different story.
Most voters, mainly the poor and unemployed working class, are increasingly desperate for relief from the grim economic situation created by previous Zanu-PF administrations.
The brief glimpse of economic recovery following the arrival of an inclusive government in 2009 has worn off and the reality is there is no investment, and infrastructure repair has mostly come to a standstill.
Reforms to election laws, including the administration of elections, make rigging or miscounts more difficult, despite chaos within the Zimbabwe Election Commission which last week showed with its poor handling of just the special voting, that it is not yet ready to run full elections.
But just as it seems more likely for Tsvangirai to win more than 50 percent in the first round, the prospect of a victory sends shivers down the spines of most Zimbabweans as they recall what happened in the last poll.
Those elections were, as usual, peaceful on the day – March 28, 2008.
The official count showed Tsvangirai easily beat Mugabe in the first round but was nearly three percent short of what he needed to win outright, 50 percent plus one vote.
But insiders believe Tsvangirai had got that figure and that Zanu-PF knew this within 12 hours after polls closed via the Zimbabwe Election Commission, then chaired by one of Mugabe’s allies, General George Chiweshe, now president of the Harare High Court.
Mugabe was prepared to stand down. He felt thoroughly beaten, and was tired.
But there was panic elsewhere in Zanu-PF and some of the party elite began moving assets. The military and others in security, in particular the Joint Operation Command, then hatched a plot for Mugabe to survive. They would manipulate the vote to deny Tsvangirai victory in the first round and then drive him out of the run-off. by violence, or so some insiders suspect.
That’s why it took an otherwise inexplicable five weeks for the ZEC to announce the presidential election result, showing a narrow MDC victory.
When MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti claimed that Tsvangirai had in fact won more than 50 percent he was arrested.
Hundreds were killed, mostly beaten to death, thousands were injured, and tens of thousands had to flee. Tsvangirai left for Botswana.
Finally, a week before the scheduled run off, gunmen started firing around the five-star hotel where the mostly African observer groups stayed. That was the end of the road.
Tsvangirai decided to withdraw from the run-off.
Of course Mugabe won. But there was no food in supermarkets, the currency was more useful to start a fire than take to a shop, there were fuel shortages, power cuts, closed schools and hospitals, and no money to pay civil servants.
SADC intervened, asking then president Thabo Mbeki to mediate negotiations among the rival parties for a power-sharing transitional government. It is over four years since then. The country now has better electoral laws, it has a couple of independents on the election commission.
There is also President Jacob Zuma’s mediation team who are concerned enough to call a summit of SADC’s security troika, mainly to discuss “the status of preparations” for the elections.
So it is clear that a Tsvangirai victory would be a move into the perilous unknown for the country.
Independent Foreign Service