Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC-T party took part in Zimbabwe’s elections against advice from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which urged him to withdraw from the polls.
A high-level diplomatic source has told City Press that the SADC told Tsvangirai at a summit in Maputo in June not to take part in the elections.
“This was the only way the elections could be delayed so concerns about the reforms of the security sector could be addressed,” said a government aide with close knowledge of the meeting.
But Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said the proposal was not made at the meeting. “The SADC’s communiqué (discussed in Maputo) wanted the parties to talk about their differences and approach the courts for a postponement of 14 days,” Maharaj said.
“It did not say that one party should withdraw. That wasn’t an option. If any member advised this outside of the meeting, it would be an irresponsible thing to say.”
The Maputo meeting was attended by SADC heads, including Zuma, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who served as prime minister of Zimbabwe’s unity government at the time.
The claim was corroborated by a separate source, who was briefed about the meeting.
But the second source said: “The MDC-T didn’t want to (pull out) because they were convinced that they would win the elections.”
On Tuesday night, just hours before voting started, Tsvangirai told a member of the SADC’s observer mission they were expecting more than 70% of the vote.
The SADC had hoped that the MDC-T’s withdrawal would force the postponement of the elections and give the regional organ some breathing space.
When it became clear the election was lost, Tsvangirai late this week met with SADC mission leader Tanzanian foreign affairs minister Bernard Membe at his plush house in the Highlands suburb of Harare, where he expressed his concerns.
He also met African Union (AU) mission leader, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.
This meeting was confirmed by Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, Luke Tamborinyoka.
Both the AU and the SADC this week expressed concerns about the way the elections had been conducted, but in their preliminary pronouncements said the elections had been free.
They raised issues like the printing of 2 million extra ballot papers, which was more than the international standard; the large number of assisted voters who could have been intimidated to vote in a particular way; and the number of voters turned away from polling stations. The Chinese observer mission declared the polls as free and fair.
The diplomatic source with knowledge of the Maputo meeting said Membe held a four-hour meeting with senior MDC-T leaders on Friday night at his temporary office in Harare’s Rainbow Towers Hotel.
They were said to have expressed their shock and concern about alleged vote-rigging and irregularities, but Tamborinyoka denied the meeting.
The SADC’s most powerful political body, its troika – which consists of three countries and headed by Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, is set to meet again on Wednesday in Lilongwe, Malawi, to debrief.
Five keys questions after Zimbabwe polls
1. Should Tsvangirai have taken the SADC’s advice?
Tsvangirai was correct not to heed that advice. As the leader of the second-most popular party and the most popular for the candidate in the 2008 elections, there was no reason for him to believe his prospects were terrible in the 2013 polls.
2. Was the election “stolen”?
That depends who you ask. Tsvangirai says “yes”. The African Union, in a statement after the polls, avoided mentioning vote-rigging, but said some voters were turned away and some voting stations were published late. It said the 2013 elections were a big improvement on the previous polls. The SADC observer mission said they were free and peaceful. However, Britain yesterday expressed reservations about the fairness of the polls.
3. What recourse does Tsvangirai have now that he’s lost?
Any challenges must be settled within seven days and the swearing-in of the president happens 48 hours thereafter. He also wants the SADC troika to investigate the “militarisation” of the elections, and says he’ll submit a dossier to it and the AU to help their probe.
4. What’s the difference between the 2008 results and this year’s?
In 2008, Tsvangirai got 48% of the presidential vote, while Mugabe secured 43%. Tsvangirai pulled out before the second round of the presidential poll could take place, giving his rival the victory. This year, Mugabe secured 61.1% of the all-important vote. In the parliamentary elections of 2008, the MDC got nearly 43% of the vote, while Zanu-PF got nearly 46%. This year, Zanu-PF got a whopping 76% of the parliamentary seats on offer.
5. So how does Tsvangirai believe his party actually fared?
The MDC’s target was 72% of the parliamentary seats on offer. It hasn’t yet said how much of the vote it thinks it really took. – Sabelo Ndlangisa