Page last updated at 01:16 GMT, Monday, 17 March 2008

Zimbabwe poll: Head to head

George Shire (l) and Wilf Mbanga (r)
Shire (l) predicts a Mugabe victory - Mbanga (r) disagrees

Zimbabweans are going to the polls on 29 March to elect a president, members of parliament and some local councillors. The key issues will be the economic crisis, land reform and the entry of former Finance Minister Simba Makoni to the political race.

Academic and ruling Zanu-PF supporter George Shire and Wilf Mbanga, critic of President Robert Mugabe and publisher of the Zimbabwean newspaper, discussed how they thought the elections would go.

George Shire: I think Robert Mugabe will win the presidency and Zanu-PF will win the House of Assembly and local elections.

They will do so because they have a well organised electoral machinery in place, they have a better sense of purpose this time than before.

They seem to have a coherent narrative that speaks to what Zimbabweans are concerned about.

Wilf Mbanga: We know for a fact that people around Mugabe are in panic mode.

The army chief has warned Zimbabweans that if they voted for anyone other than Robert Mugabe they would stage a coup and the chief of prisons a couple of weeks ago told his staff to vote for Robert Mugabe and nobody else.

Soldier in front of Mugabe supporters
Will the army intervene in the election?

Mugabe himself is saying he will walk it, he will win by a landslide. I don't know where he gets that from because the economy has collapsed, services have collapsed. I don't know why anyone would vote for a continuation of the suffering we have in our country.

What will happen is that Mugabe will stuff the ballot boxes, he will rig the election.

That's the only way he can win. For example, soldiers and Zimbabwean diplomats around the world vote in private - there are no international or local observers in place - this allows them to rig the elections, as their votes are added to votes from their constituencies.

If you look at the polling stations, Harare, for example, has 733,000 voters and they have only been give just over 300 polling stations. This means voters have to vote four times in less than 12 seconds. This is impossible.

Whereas, for example if you look at Mashonaland Central, which is seen as a Mugabe stronghold, they have 500,000 voters and over 1,200 polling stations.

George Shire: Zimbabwe is not like that. South Africa has been pilloried for its stance on the Zimbabwe situation.

The last thing South Africa wants is to be aligned with an electoral process that has holes in it. The Sadc [Southern African Development Community] countries are the same, and the African Union.

All the people that have been supportive of Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF up to now want to see this as transparent as is possible. It is in the interests of Zanu-PF to make it transparent. It will be free and fair.

Man carrying bundles of banknotes
Zimbabwe has the world's highest rate of inflation

If you compare it to any other elections, or any other period leading up to it, it is as peaceful as Zimbabwe has ever had it.

I haven't seen a statement from the army saying they would not accept the results. What I have seen is remarks made by the head of the prison service, who said if any other candidate won, he would resign his post and go back to his farm.

He would not salute them, he did not say he would defy the laws of the country.

You have to read that comment with what is in the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] manifesto - it says, when we come into power, we will REVIEW the personnel of Zimbabwean diplomats and other civil servants.

Civil servants are reading that as saying, if the MDC comes into power, we will lose our jobs. That is why you get these remarks. I have not seen anything to say that March 29th will not be peaceful.

Politicians must tell people what they would do if they come to power in a given situation. How will people deal with spiralling inflation?

One of the things that Zanu-PF has done so well over the last 10 years is to keep its membership base involved about what is the reason for inflation. That's why people will deliver.

It's not that people don't know that inflation is rising, it's not because they think things will be the same.

They have an understanding of what Zanu-PF will do. The problem for the opposition is that they have failed to convince people of an alternative.

Wilf Mbanga: Mugabe has told Sadc leaders he would not accept defeat. The army has told us it would not accept any defeat of Robert Mugabe, so there is a problem there.

Why has Zanu-PF decided to only invite their friends to come and observe the elections? If the elections are going to be transparent, if they are going to be free and fair, surely they should invite their critics, to satisfy them that this time round, the elections will be free and fair.

George Shire: My view is that everybody in Zimbabwe is going to accept whatever the result on 29 March will be. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Zimbabwe is a sophisticated, complex, mature country. No-one will want to die for anybody just because they say we don't want to accept the election.

Wilf Mbanga: Simba Makoni will play the role of a spoiler for Mugabe because he is coming from Zanu-PF - he says he is still Zanu-PF.

Simba Makoni
What difference will Makoni make?

He says there are some supporters from Zanu-PF who back him, although we have not seen much evidence of that but we have put that down to fear within Zanu-PF because everything in Zanu-PF is dependent on this patronage system.

If you are seen not to be backing Mugabe, you can be punished and there is evidence of this in the past. Makoni will get some support from Zanu-PF, he will get some support from the academics and from the business community in the urban areas.

So he will take votes both from Mugabe and the MDC, but mostly from Zanu-PF.

George Shire: Zimbabweans are not persuaded by personalities. Is there a difference of policy and principle between Makoni and Zanu-PF?

One of the reasons why he was thrown out of government is he was opposed to the land question. He might not say it in public, but he is.

Opposition supporter with a red card for Mugabe
The opposition wants to give Mugabe the red card

Presumably he is opposed to black economic empowerment.

To Zimbabweans, they translate that as the local version of neo-liberal politics. It has no buyers in the region.

He might be the flavour of the month for the literati or the academics. They are not the majority.

To the majority, what matters is whether the land revolution continues - whatever imperfections there may be.

Whether or not there is a widening of participation in the economy.

Whether the assets of the country are held in trust by the state on behalf of the people.

He will get support from those people who see the political discourse of the country as an individual story [Robert Mugabe]. That's why, from some sections of the MDC, he is popular.

All Zanu-PF has to do is to hold its support base. It does not have to increase it. If it does that, it will have a landslide victory.

I have not seen any evidence to suggest that any one of these opposition figures has done anything to erode the support base of Zanu-PF.

Wilf Mbanga: There is evidence. The MDC has been holding rallies in rural areas, where they have attracted large numbers. [The MDC's presidential candidate] Morgan Tsvangirai was in Bindura Zhamva and Thsolotsho where he addressed huge rallies. This is the first time he has been able to penetrate rural areas, which were previously under the control of Zanu-PF.

George Shire: I am encouraged that Morgan Tsvangirai has been participating nationally - that demonstrates what I have been saying all along - that the political landscape in Zimbabwe is much more fluid, much more open, much more viable than what most people seem to think it is.

Wilf Mbanga: It is not. The radio and TV are owned by government, the two national dailies are controlled by the government. Up to now, the government newspapers are still refusing to take adverts from the MDC.

George Shire: In 1980 - there was no media access to Zanu-PF, it came up with 80% of the vote. People in Zimbabwe are politically savvy. Probably, the election is won already.

They vote not because of the media but because they are connected to what is going on in their country. They are much more politically astute. These are highly sophisticated electorates, much more sophisticated, much more engaged than people give them credit for.

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