Peter Oborne

In Zimbabwe, hope has turned to silent terror

Peter Oborne says that the post-electoral limbo leaves Mugabe with a series of unpalatable options, the armed forces in disarray and Zimbabweans with a sense of grim foreboding

On the night after the presidential elections 12 days ago, a British diplomat, Philip Barclay, witnessed the count at the little outpost of Bikisa deep in rural Masvingo. This part of Zimbabwe is Zanu PF heartland. In all five presidential elections since independence in 1981 the people of Bikisa had voted solidly for Robert Mugabe — and there was little expectation of anything different this time.

Barclay reports feeling faint with sheer amazement when it became clear that the largest pile of votes was for Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Just 44 people in Bikisa voted for President Mugabe, against an overwhelming 167 for Tsvangirai.

Reports from other areas soon made it clear that Bikisa was not exceptional, and that Mugabe had been voted out of power in a political earthquake. By late in the afternoon on 30 March — the day after the election — the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, an independent body charged with overseeing the poll, was in a position to make a cautious estimate of the result. It judged that Morgan Tsvangirai had secured almost 60 per cent of the vote, more than double that of Robert Mugabe with 27 per cent.

Sources say that when this news was brought to the President his first reaction was genuine incredulity. He is now so out of touch, and so used to winning elections, that he had felt confident of a comfortable majority.

Incredulity swiftly turned to anger, and Mugabe grimly ordered the Electoral Commission to declare him the victor. This command was resisted by very brave election officials. They received unexpected support, however, from senior personnel within the Zimbabwe state security apparatus, fearful of the public order consequences that would certainly flow from such blatant fixing of the result.

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