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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 11:39 GMT
What next for Zimbabwe?
To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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President Robert Mugabe has defeated rival Morgan Tsangarai by a substantial margin in a presidential election described by some observers as deeply flawed and unjust.

The three-day election saw higher turnouts in Mr Mugabe's rural strongholds than in the towns and cities, where many faced massive delays when trying to vote.

Both Britain and France have rejected the election result, saying it was not free and fair. The United States says it is considering further sanctions. While South African observers declared the election "legitimate".

Mr Tsvangirai says the presidential vote had been "massively rigged" and that one million voters had been disenfranchised.

Do you think these elections were "legitimate" or "rigged"? Are you concerned for the safety of those detained during the election? What questions do you have about Zimbabwe's future?

Bridget Kendall put your questions to BBC Correspondent Lyse Doucet in South Africa and the BBC's Lewis Machipisa in Harare in a live forum.


Transcript:


Bridget Kendall:

Welcome to our BBC News Online interactive forum. I'm Bridget Kendall here in London and our subject today is Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe, as many of you may know, has just won a fifth term in office. But amid allegations of ballot irregularities and violence by the ruling party, he defeated his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, by a substantial margin. But some foreign and local observers described the election as deeply flawed and unjust.

Joining us to discuss the results are the BBC correspondent, Lyse Doucet, who is in South Africa. The BBC's Lewis Machipisa, who comes to us by phone from Harare and Nick Robinson who is here in London.


We've had an e-mail from Tsungi in Washington, USA: It seems that the elections were rigged before the voters cast their votes? Is that the mood that you are picking up?


Lewis Machipisa:

There are people who will say because in the pre-election period there was a lot of violence that went on in the countryside and even in some parts of the township. Some people and political analysts have actually been saying - if you look at the total sum of the election, one can say that maybe not as in rigging - as the government maybe throwing in extra ballot papers - but in terms of disenfranchising a lot of supporters who would have voted for the opposition and in that regard some people strongly feel that that's where the ruling party started to lose the election.


Bridget Kendall:

Let's go to Lyse Doucet who has been watching these elections from across the border in South Africa. One e-mail from a Zimbabwean in London called Vaughan, says: I am devastated by this result but my frustration now turns to the South African observers who declared the election fair! Do you think this is a very short-sighted political move which will backfire massively on the people of South Africa and the whole region?


Lyse Doucet:

Well let me point to some of the contradictions of the report which was issued by the South African observer team and that frustration expressed by that person who contacted you is very much reflected in the newspapers here in Zimbabwe today. In fact one of the leading newspapers I have in front of me - Business Day says, "A flawed illegitimate election South Africa should not have endorsed". The actual wording used by the South African observer team was not free and fair. They said we're not going to look at it in those terms. They described it as legitimate. When I actually spoke to one of the leading members of that team, I said, what did you base it on? Through speaking with him and reading the report, it is clear for them the legitimacy of the election comes from the fact that Morgan Tsvangirai and the opposition movement for democratic change participated in the election and millions of Zimbabweans turned out to vote - queuing sometimes for as long as days.

But when you get to the detail of the report - for example they look at the regulatory environment. They say that there was legislative uncertainty which threatened the integrity of the electoral process. They say the campaigning was characterised by polarisation, tension, incidents of violence and intimidation which has led many here in South Africa to say - well listen you've actually seen yourselves on the ground, there are many violations, many abuses and yet for a different standard altogether, you've described them as legitimate. So I think discussion of that question of the South African approval will be on the agenda for some time.


Bridget Kendall:

Lorkin Lynch, UK asks: What exactly do the people who voted and stood by President Mugabe get out of this?


Lewis Machipisa:

There is a lot that they stand to get out of it. For instance, President Mugabe has been getting land from white commercial farmers and giving it to landless black Zimbabweans. In a country that has been suffering from a gross imbalance of land ownership where a very small section of the community owns much of the most fertile and prime farming land, a lot of the people actually feel that if they voted for the ruling party that the government will give them the land back they certainly need. But there is a whole political debate on that whether President Mugabe is genuine in that he finally wants to give people the land because these statements are coming 23 years after Zimbabwe became independent.

For some of them, they've heard the stories that the opposition movement for democratic change stands for white interests and as part of their campaign President Mugabe went on telling people that if you vote for the opposition it's tantamount to bringing back in an opposition that is alleged to say if it wins it will give back land to the whites - which obviously they have denied. So many of people fell for that and it was more for the hunger of land than any other policy that the ruling government may say they have to turn around the economy which is clearly in the intensive care unit.


Bridget Kendall:

Jon Quirk, Johannesburg, South Africa: Our President in South Africa appears to have opted for expediency, taking the easy route of fraternal support of a fellow "liberation-struggle colleague". But unless Mbeki has seriously lost his marbles he must be fully aware of the overwhelming evidence of fraud, intimidation, and violence? So what is Mbeki trying to achieve?


Lyse Doucet:

Well indeed that's the question everyone here is asking - many South Africans are asking it, people across Africa are asking it. Because Thabo Mbeki has yet to pronounce what he thinks about the election. Yesterday he said it was premature to reach any conclusion and the government is busily saying that the recommendations and conclusions of the South African observer mission is not their own conclusion. Thabo Mbeki's office says he wants to look at what the Commonwealth observers say. He wants to discuss with other African leaders. He sent his deputy to Harare today to discuss the situation with Robert Mugabe's officials.

I think Thabo Mbeki, more than anyone else knows just what is at stake here. After all he has made himself a champion of good governance in Africa. He has committed himself to what's called the "new partnership for economic development" in which African leaders will themselves enter a process of good governance in exchange for a better economic relationship with the West. So he has to balance this out with South Africa's other strategic interests. As one of the editorials in the paper said, they believe he's going to go for the strategy - better the devil I know than the devil I don't - thinking well let's to try to work with Robert Mugabe. I think that's what they're going to be saying to Morgan Tsvangirai. There's speculation here that he does have a game plan - that they've said to Robert Mugabe - ok fine, we'll let this election pass but there must be a way in which you are eased out of power and Zimbabwe moves on and something good is done for the entire region.


Bridget Kendall:

Lamin, Gambia/USA: Do you think the people of Zimbabwe should now put the elections behind them and rally behind the government to work towards their mutual benefit just like the Americans did under the controversial Bush presidency?


Lyse Doucet:

It is interesting, one South African commentator said - do you think the Zimbabwe situation will become like the elections in the state of Florida in the American presidential election dragging on as we all well know? And the commentator immediately responded - no, it will be like Madagascar where you have two presidents declaring themselves the legitimate ruler of the country. It is very interesting - virtually all the African leaders who hailed Robert Mugabe's victory have called for national reconciliation in Zimbabwe. My question is after all that has gone on - including the torture, the reports of arrests that have been documented by all of the election observer groups who've taken a critical line - the concerns of the opposition movement for democratic change - the harassment we've seen - can you just close the book on this and say right let's start again. The fact that the opposition movement for democratic change is saying very little today and the fact that there has been so little reaction on the streets, means that they are now considering the very, very tough choices they have to make now about Zimbabwe's immediate future.


Bridget Kendall:

Finally Lyse, you're in South Africa, BBC television correspondents have not been allowed to cover this election from inside Zimbabwe. James Yu, South Korea asks: How has the BBC overcome the restrictions?


Lyse Doucet:

It is deeply, deeply, frustrating. Everyone who is involved in our team here in Johannesburg are journalists who are used to being on the spot - getting as close as possible to the action. It is very, very hard for us of course to give it as comprehensive coverage as we like because we can't have people in our own studios with Zimbabwean talking to them. But having said that we've been able to form our studios here, to interview people down the telephone line from Harare - we've had election observers on the line, we've had commentators here in South Africa. We've even had leading members of the opposition movement for democratic change who've fled from the country and we've managed to reach them here. We've had our correspondents on the border and we've had people inside giving us information. Of course we had Lewis Machipisa who must be cursing the BBC because now his work has quadrupled. But he has given us very good coverage from inside. But you know that no one person can handle all what the BBC has to do. So we've managed in difficult circumstances.


Bridget Kendall:

Let's go to our Westminster office and Nick Robinson who has been following how the British Government have been monitoring these elections. Nick we've had a question from Dimola in the United States who says: Why is the BBC so interested in the outcome of this election? I don't even think the BBC covered the British election with this amount of fanfare. Is it that the BBC is just trying to discredit Mugabe because he won the election fair and square and no amount of intimidation and propaganda will ever change that?


Nick Robinson:

I don't they could have been watching the coverage of the British election if they think we didn't cover that to the same extent as the Zimbabwean election. There is an obvious and important point in that question which is why the interest? It is partly historical - Britain has this great link with Zimbabwe which was Rhodesia. There are still a lot of British citizens who live in Zimbabwe and lot of Zimbabweans that live in Britain. So that is part of the reason, but it's also partly because it's seen as a symbol of whether Africa can change.

I was fascinated by the point that Lyse was making about why the South Africans have so far supported the Zimbabwe elections. I think what you are seeing here is a real turning point. We've got a Prime Minister in Britain, in Tony Blair, who is taking a real interest in Africa. I travelled recently with him to four west African countries and he said at last there's a chance for African nations to have a partnership with the West and improve their governance to get more investment in from the private sector. But - and it's a huge but - if southern African goes along with the Zimbabwean elections, the impression I get from Whitehall is they think that game is pretty much over. That whatever governments think that the financial community simply won't have faith in democracy in southern Africa and the money won't come.


Bridget Kendall:

Dr. Michael K Oladimeji, New Jersey, USA: Do you think Mugabe's victory was handed to him because voters believed the white world was ganging up on him?


Lewis Machipisa:

With a lot of white Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe, still leading plush lives, there is still a well of this anti-colonial resentment that Mr Mugabe can draw from and has been drawing from. Furthermore people remember many years back when they were moved from their fertile soil many hundreds of years of ago. But increasingly people do not really see it as a black and white issue - people are more interested if they have money in their pockets and if there is food in the supermarket.


Bridget Kendall:

Question from Nigeria from N Reges who says "Isn't it true that actually the West wanted the opposition to win at all cost whereas the majority of the population supported President Mugabe's land reform programme?


Nick Robinson:

It is certainly true that the British Government and other governments in the West had concluded that President Robert Mugabe had to go. Now was that because of the land reform programme because those governments didn't want land given to poor blacks in Zimbabwe? Well I think that's too simple a view. What Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, speaking in the last couple of hours in Parliament about this said - look at what's happened to the economy. Even if you put to one side the alleged rigging of the elections - look what's happened to the ordinary Zimbabweans. He said, the economy has shrunk by about one-quarter in the past two years - there is 70% unemployment in Zimbabwe. So what has happened is the West has taken the view that the way in which land reform has been carried out has been disastrous - that it has cost the Zimbabwean economy, that agriculture is in a real mess and that that is the reason they turned against Robert Mugabe. In the process, of course, they do take the risk and they did take the risk that they look like the old colonial power saying this is who you ought to choose to govern you.


Bridget Kendall:

What about the Commonwealth. Matt Wright who is in Belgium but says he is a British and a Canadian citizen and that means of course, a citizen of the Commonwealth. He says: all the three Commonwealth committee members who were supposed to be deciding on what action to take on Zimbabwe as a result of the election, have already made some sort of statements about the election. They can't be truly independent of vested interests can they? How can they resolve much of the world's anger with what will ultimately be leaving a dictator in place?


Nick Robinson:

In a sense that's a strength as well as a weakness. Let's remember why this group was set up. It was because Tony Blair went to that Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Brisbane, Australia recently and could not persuade colleagues there that they should suspend Zimbabwe's membership - expel them from the Commonwealth - because of what had already happened. So a compromise was reached which is these three countries would come together and come to a view. Now the technical reason for choosing those three countries was because it was the order of who was in the chair of the Commonwealth, as if it was just chance. But the real political reason for it was precisely that they represented different vested interests - that South Africa had already spoken up for Mugabe and was likely to favour him, Australia on the other hand, a white power in the Commonwealth, had been critical, Nigeria, trusted by Tony Blair, with President Obasanjo, as one of the key reforming voices in Africa. So the sense was that at least there were those competing voices round the table and it might be more possible to find an agreement between three people and three countries than it was the huge over 50-nation Commonwealth. That's the hope but we don't get the outcome until next week and it may prove a vain hope.


Bridget Kendall:

John David Levy, USA: Who would the frontline runner be to succeed Mugabe within ZANU PF because assuming he is still in power in 2008, he would in fact be 84 years old?


Lewis Machipisa:

Talk around the succession issue for a long time was a taboo subject as it was said President Mugabe was the only one who should lead ZANU PF. But names that have been popping up in the question of succession to Mr Mugabe are that of Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa who is currently the Speaker of Parliament in Zimbabwe. But it is said that Mr Mnangagwa is said to be deeply unpopular within the ruling party. An ideal candidate would be the Finance Minister, Mr Simba Makoni, but analysts says he lacks the political clout to ride over the politics in ZANU PF.


Bridget Kendall:

Graham Crouch, London UK: What do you think will happen next? The Zimbabweans are a sophisticated people whose standards are closer to the West than the rest of Africa. So when the results are analysed and it will become evident perhaps that the elections have been rigged - what do you think will happen next?


Lewis Machipisa:

Zimbabweans do love their peace. I think what I have been picking up from the streets, in offices etc. - people are angry but they do not think protesting or taking up arms is the solution. They think there should be ways of trying to resolve what they clearly feel is a stolen election. Suggestions have been made that they go to the Supreme Court about the alleged voter irregularities and order a rerun and enough security will be put in place to ensure that these voting irregularities and intimidation does not happen again. But clearly taking up arms or protesting is clearly out of the question. Zimbabwe has very strong security organisations - strong organisations that can deal with any uprising in the country. So people know the heavy hand that has been used by the police and not too many will be willing to take to the streets. But with food shortages, I think anger could be get high - it may be spontaneous, like when we had our food riots about three years ago - that may happen again.


Bridget Kendall:

Ian Dunn who is a South African in London asks: What sort approach might be used against the Mugabe regime from here. It took a combination of internal mass action and international pressure to bring the regime in South Africa to its knees when democratic options were closed. So what's going to happen this time around?


Nick Robinson:

I think we'll see over the next few days it emerge what will happen. The EU is of course meeting for a leaders' summit over the weekend. They have already taken, what they call, targeted sanctions. By that they mean, sanctions designed to hit the rulers of Zimbabwe and not the people - restrictions on their finances, their ability to fly and so on - we may see a stepping up of those sanctions. But I think even those who support them think they will have a limited effect.

The Americans have been talking to the British and others about upping their sanction regime as well. We wait, as we've saying, for what the Commonwealth will decide to do. But again it is a piece of symbolism to expel Zimbabwe from Commonwealth even if they do go down that fairly severe route. I think it will have to be a combination of this disapproval from outside and some sort of internal objections to perhaps the standard of living if not to the politics of Robert Mugabe that will eventually produce any change. Certainly, just quoting Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary in Parliament a few minutes ago, he was saying that he believed that change would come. So there is sadness around Westminster and Whitehall that it hasn't come yet but a belief that it will come eventually.


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