What is success in Zimbabwe’s elections?


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.


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Reference ID






2005-03-09 15:21

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

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







E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/11/2010





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

and Abroad



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

election’s wake.


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.




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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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