This is a question one could be asking now as the country debates when and whether to hold its next elections. But this was asked by the United States embassy seven years ago as the country prepared for the 2005 parliamentary elections.
For the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front the aim was to attain a two-thirds majority so that the party could make amendments to the constitution without having to get the support of the Movement for Democratic Change.
For the MDC, it meant a whole set of things. For one even a victory was not going to change the government as President Robert Mugabe’s term as president ended three years later.
But the election was going to give an indication as to whether the party was progressing or regressing as political differences, which Western diplomats chose to ignore, had started surfacing within the party’s leadership especially between party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his secretary-general Welshman Ncube.
Viewing cable 05HARARE383, ZIMBABWE’S ELECTION — WHAT’S A SUCCESS?
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
091521Z Mar 05
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 000383
AF/S FOR BNEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2010
SUBJECT: ZIMBABWE’S ELECTION — WHAT’S A SUCCESS?
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires a.i. Eric T. Schultz under Section 1.4
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: The March 31 parliamentary election cannot
deliver a change of government, which under Zimbabwe,s
constitution is appointed by President Mugabe. That said,
the stakes are high for both parties. ZANU-PF’s objective is
an election that secures it a 2/3 majority of 100 seats,
including the 30 President Mugabe appoints, which would
enable it to amend the constitution. It is also hoping that
the elections will open the door for broader international
re-engagement, the main reason the ruling party has moderated
its behavior and rhetoric compared to past elections.
¶2. (C) SUMMARY CONTINUED: For the MDC, measures of success
are more complicated, with various outcomes offering
different post-election possibilities. However, the two key
numbers are 51 seats, which would allow it to retain its
current block on unilateral constitutional change, and 76,
which would give it an outright majority in Parliament and
could precipitate real political change. The MDC will also
be looking to the West to continue to pressure the Mugabe
regime, arguing that regardless of the election outcome, it
would have done better on a level playing field. END SUMMARY.
ZANU-PF Success: 2/3 Majority and Greater Acceptance at Home
¶3. (C) The 2005 election has been a prominent ZANU-PF
priority for several years now. Initially, the party’s
imperative was to crush the MDC and reduce its representation
as much as possible and by all means possible. However, the
nation’s continued economic deterioration and the party’s own
factionalism, combined with regional and international
pressure, have led it to adjust its election objectives. The
party,s main goal is now to secure a two-thirds majority in
Parliament and to do so in a way that improves the party,s
image domestically, regionally, and internationally.
¶4. (C) A two-thirds majority would allow the ruling party to
amend the constitution at will, without negotiating with the
MDC. This would give ZANU-PF near total control over
Zimbabwean politics and allow it to secure its hold on
Zimbabwe post-Mugabe. ZANU-PF starts with a 30-seat
advantage, the seats appointed by President Mugabe under the
current constitution. The party therefore needs to win only
70 of the 120 contested seats, something which many in
ZANU-PF believe it will do easily given its control of state
machinery and media and its ability to influence voters
through handouts and propaganda.
¶5. (C) A two-thirds ZANU-PF majority could allow the MDC to
maintain a voice, something the ruling party appears to have
decided is an acceptable price to pay for the resumed
international re-engagement it sees as crucial to national
recovery. In that regard, ZANU-PF appears to have taken a
deliberate, calculated gamble that it can win without the
widespread violence of the 2000 parliamentary and especially
the 2002 presidential elections and that the absence of
violence will force the international community to recognize
the election,s legitimacy. However, the lack of violence
has given the opposition grounds for optimism and has made
the elections far more unpredictable than anyone would have
predicted even a month ago.
MDC Success Hinges on Optics, Retaining Leverage
¶6. (C) With its domestic and international image dented by
the failure of its final push in 2003, followed by several
by-election defeats, the MDC months ago had “conditionally
suspended participation” in the election, and many were
concerned that it was slipping toward political oblivion.
With the opening of campaign space, greater access to media,
and a buoying re-entry into the race, MDC leaders now hold
conflicting views of their party’s prospects. While some
fear the opposition may lose half its 52 seats (the MDC won
57 in 2000 but has lost some in subsequent by-elections),
most say it has a meaningful chance to take half the
contested seats, with an outside chance at an overall
majority absent intimidation and vote-rigging. The
leadership has been careful not to publicly offer explicit
targets as potential indicators of success, in part over fear
that rising expectations could set the bar too high and make
apparent failure more likely.
¶7. (C) As with the ruling party, the MDC’s parliamentary
delegation strength ) and the leverage that representation
affords ) will be a central indicator of success. However,
for the MDC there is not one single number that signals
success but a variety of numbers that signal measures of
— The MDC wins fewer than 51 seats. ZANU-PF would have its
two-thirds majority and the MDC,s future could be at risk
since it will have little political leverage. The extent to
which it is able to convince domestic, regional and
international audiences that the results were fraudulent
could mitigate the scale and scope of the ruling party,s
victory. Still, the MDC might remain one of Africa’s most
robust oppositions, with enough intellectual firepower and
popular support to exert meaningful influence on
policy-making. Significantly, with close to 50 seats, it
would likely remain viable in the run-up to the 2008
presidential and local government elections.
— The MDC wins at least 51 but fewer than 57 seats. Some in
the opposition would see taking fewer seats than in 2000 as a
disappointment. However, the party would retain its blocking
minority for constitutional amendments, giving it leverage
against the ruling party and creating an impetus for
negotiations. Moreover, the MDC would have fought back from
near oblivion on an unequal playing field and would gain
valuable momentum for 2008, and will have established its
staying power as a factor in Zimbabwean politics.
— The MDC wins at least 57 (the number it won in 2000) but
fewer than 61 seats. This result would stem the momentum the
ruling party generated over the past two years with its
by-elections successes. The MDC would retain blocking
leverage and a significant voice in Parliament. However, the
country’s imbalance of power would be largely unaffected as
the ruling party, with its extra 30 appointed seats, would
still control the legislative and executive branches.
— The MDC wins at least 61 but fewer than 76 seats. Taking
a majority of contested seats but less than an absolute
majority in the Parliament would represent a moral victory
for the opposition, and would bolster its claim to have won
the mantle of democratic legitimacy from ZANU-PF. However,
this outcome is unlikely and would still not change the
imbalance of power.
— The MDC wins 76 or more seats. With an absolute MDC
majority in the Parliament, the government would be unable to
pass any legislation without MDC assent and it could force
legislative gridlock with unpredictable consequences. This
outcome is highly unlikely.
¶8. (C) For the MDC, another key measure of success will be
the perceived stature of the party’s leadership as it emerges
from the campaign. MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai is not
running for a seat but is coordinating the party’s campaign
in pivotal Masvingo province and is cutting a high campaign
profile nationally. The personality and judgment he projects
will reflect strongly on the party’s image, with considerable
implications for the party’s influence at home and abroad and
for its chances in the pivotal 2008 presidential election. A
strong MDC showing, in the face of unequal odds and coming
after years of systematic repression by the GOZ, would almost
certainly enhance Tsvangirai,s stature as a credible
political leader within Africa.
Election Conduct and International Role
¶9. (C) International reaction to the conduct of the election
will key for both parties. Although there have already been
improvements in the election environment (refs A and B), key
variables, such as the level of violence/coercion and the
integrity of election administration, have yet to play out.
Moreover, the playing field remains skewed in the incumbent
ruling party’s favor and the historical legacies of past
flawed elections ) residual fear and apathy ) cannot be
remedied in the short term by any amount of adjustments to
the election rules.
¶10. (C) Observers no doubt will reach different conclusions
on the election’s freeness and fairness, driven by their
different weighting of factors and different political
agendas. In this regard, the ruling party will be content
with a regional stamp of approval, both to sell the election
result to its domestic audiences and as a potential bridge to
wider international engagement. Assuming it gets regional
endorsement for a ZANU-PF victory, the ruling party can be
expected to step up its “charm offensive” and further warm
its public and private rhetoric toward the West in the
¶11. (C) For its part, the MDC, regardless of how it fares,
will attempt to leverage its influence with Western countries
to counter a regional stamp of approval. Accordingly, no
matter how many seats it wins, it will argue that election
irregularities prevented it from winning more and will press
for continued international pressure on the regime, both for
leverage in any post-election negotiations and in the run-up
to the presidential election of 2008.
Success for Zimbabwe?
¶12. The MDC and ZANU-PF each measure election success as a
zero-sum game, and to some extent it is. In the broader
analysis, however, the election’s success must be measured
with regard to trends in the election environment, and the
extent to which this election reflects the will of the
Zimbabwean people. In the same vein ) and perhaps most
importantly from our perspective ) the election must be
judged by its impact on Zimbabwe’s dysfunctional political
dynamic. Because it will not yield a change in government,
this election is not a pivotal event by itself but just the
latest development in a complex drama that will not likely
reach its climax until the presidential election of 2008 or
beyond. The outcome will set the stage for the next phase of
this struggle and is thus of no small importance. However,
we should avoid over-emphasizing this event and thereby play
into Mugabe,s argument that this vote will &resolve8
Zimbabwe,s crisis of political legitimacy.