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Zimbabwe Prepares for Crucial Vote

Violence continues to plague Zimbabwe ahead of an expected June 27 presidential run-off election. The March 29 first-round vote put opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai in the lead, but without the majority needed to avoid a run-off against incumbent President Robert Mugabe. Many analysts fear the coming vote could plunge the country further into chaos.

Zimbabwe has been gripped by political violence since the March parliamentary and presidential elections handed Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, a parliamentary majority. Official results, which were withheld for weeks, showed Tsvangirai leading, but without a decisive majority to avoid a presidential run-off.

The opposition has contested the results and accused Harare of torturing and killing its activists. President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party accuse the opposition of stoking the violence and say the election will be free and fair.

No election should be held against this kind of backdrop, says Robert Rotberg of Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. "It's desperate. No fair election could be held under these circumstances, with Mugabe and his henchmen killing MDC and other opposition persons. More than 50 have been killed and 500 or more have been injured or maimed or gone missing," says Rotberg. "And the whole democratic space is closed because the ZANU-PF is holding daily meetings in rural areas, threatening people with death and war if they vote for the MDC or Tsvangirai in the run-off."

Many analysts say the presidential run-off is unnecessary and that it is intended to entrench President Mugabe. Regional groups like the Southern African Development Community are preparing to send observers to monitor the voting. But the president of the Hudson Institute in New York, Herbert London, says this only legitimizes those who stole the March election.

"One of the conditions that you are now facing is Mugabe wants people to vote until they vote correctly. That means voting for him. He lost the election. He should be deposed. A new government should be installed," says London. "And on top of this, world opinion should be mobilized against Mugabe. But, of course, that won't happen largely because the kind of anti-colonial rhetoric that is used by Mugabe serves as armor against the kind of criticism that he should receive."

President Mugabe blames the West for the collapse of his country's economy and an official annual inflation rate of 165-thousand percent. Mr. Mugabe has indicated that he would accept defeat if he loses this month's election. But most analysts are uncertain what that would entail.

Possible Outcomes

Georgetown University's Chester Crocker, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the Reagan administration, says the run-off might lead to several scenarios. "There is the possibility that they will just simply find a way to cook the books and produce a claimed victory for the governing party and its leader, through intimidation and beating people up. But nobody will take it seriously under these circumstances," says Crocker. "Another scenario would be that Mugabe wins and then arranges the transition to others within his party, which I don't think would make much difference. But it would maybe be a way of creating the image of a transition. It's always possible that the MDC's candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, wins despite all the obstacles. But I wouldn't be very optimistic about it."

Some observers suggest that a coup might prevent an opposition victory. Among them is the International Crisis Group's Africa Program Director, Francois Grignon, who says the military could declare the security situation too unstable for elections. "There is a possibility that a section of the army will preempt any kind of second-round by taking over, establishing military rule and forcing the opposition to accept ZANU-PF to dominate any kind of future arrangement," says Grignon. "But a closure is not going to be possible without a negotiation with the military, without finding a soft landing for Robert Mugabe, without getting the country out of the current crisis because it's not going to be possible for ZANU-PF to continue the way it used to rule."

Given that the opposition controls a parliamentary majority, Grignon says the run-off might also produce a unity government between the ZANU-PF and the MDC. But most analysts dismiss this scenario.

A coalition government would cost the opposition its credibility and would be problematic, says Georgetown University's Chester Crocker. "That's another possible outcome -- that the two primary candidates open a channel of communication and figure out if they can work together because, after all, the MDC does have a narrow majority in the parliament. It's hard to imagine that it would work for very long or that it would be very stable," says Crocker. "And I think it would be awfully hard for Tsvangirai to win, then agree to serve under Mugabe and the reverse may also be true."

A Crucial Vote

If President Mugabe remains in power after June 27, some analysts expect more Zimbabweans to flee to neighboring countries, where millions have already taken refuge. Others say a win by Morgan Tsvangirai would allow Zimbabwe to chart a new course.

Either way, the run-off will be decisive, says Harvard University's Robert Rotberg. "If the election is falsified, it's decisive. And if people are machine-gunned down at the polls, which is possible, that will be decisive. So I don't think we can look for a 'Rose Revolution' or a 'Purple Revolution' [i.e., something similar to the peaceful democratic change in Georgia's 2003 'Rose Revolution' and Iraq's 2005 legislative election, which was called the 'Purple Revolution'], but we can look for some type of closure. I am not sure how we're going to get the upper ranks of the military to understand what they need to do, which is to be with the people," says Rotberg. "But, conceivably, South Africa or the African Union can make that happen."

Most analysts say Zimbabwe would be paralyzed if Robert Mugabe remains in power after the presidential run-off. But many are hopeful that that could mobilize Africa and the world to force political change in Zimbabwe.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program, VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.