Media Conference Call: Elections in Zimbabwe (Audio)

Media Conference Call: Elections in Zimbabwe (Audio)

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Elections and Voting

ANTHONY HOLMES:  Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this Council on Foreign Relations media conference call. 

The subject is the presidential and parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe that took place on Saturday, as well as the tallying process that's been ongoing, largely in silence on the part of the Zimbabwe government and its electoral commission.

I'm Tony Holmes, the Cyrus Vance fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and the director here of the Roundtable Series on African Policy Issues.

I'm very fortunate to be joined today by a Council expert, Michelle Gavin, who is presently an adjunct fellow specializing in Africa.  Michelle is also the author of a highly regarded Council special report entitled "Planning for Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe."  This was put out at the end of October last year.

As for me, I'm a veteran of almost 29 years in the U.S. Foreign Service at the State Department with service in a number of African countries, including four years in Zimbabwe, from 1991-'95.

Michelle's bio, as well as mine and the entire Zimbabwe Council special report are available on the Web site.

So we will begin with a very short discussion of the election's background and context before opening up for questions from those journalists on the call.

Michelle, could you please start with an overview?

MICHELLE GAVIN:  Well, I can try.  As I'm sure everyone who's joined us is well aware, there are more questions than answers right now when it comes to Zimbabwe's elections. 

Voting ended on Saturday night, but we still don't have results.  The latest information that I have, and it's entirely possible that more has trickled out since, is that the Zimbabwe electoral commission has announced that both the MDC and the ZANU-PF have won 26 parliamentary seats apiece.  But the rest of the results remain to be announced. 

And of course tensions are rising as people wonder why these delays are necessary, particularly given that some results had been posted immediately outside polling places.  So it looks to many Zimbabweans like it should be simply a matter of simple addition, tallying up those results.

All this takes place, of course, against a backdrop of a country that's been in political and economic crisis for quite some time -- in fact, for nearly a decade.  And I know you all are familiar with the often-repeated statistics, the over-100,000 percent inflation rate, the roughly 80 percent unemployment rate, the constant shortages of food, fuel, electricity, problems with the water supply, et cetera.  As much as a fourth of the country has fled, largely economic refugees, although certainly some have fled political oppression as well.

And there had been some hope last year when President Mbeki of South Africa sort of reengaged in a mediation process between the opposition MDC and ruling ZANU-PF party that perhaps conditions could be laid for a reasonable election process this time around.

That didn't really happen.  The mediation process broke down and, in fact, the pre-election conditions are widely regarded as having not been free and not been fair.  There are any number of issues, problems with inflated voters rolls, problems with the number of ballots that were printed, strong media bias favoring the ruling party.

There were certainly localized instances of clear intimidation and violent repression of opposition supporters, although the opposition was more free to campaign than they had been in previous elections.

There were statements, in fact, from, for example, the commander of the Zimbabwean defense forces that they weren't going to recognize any victor besides President Mugabe, manipulation of subsidized food assistance, which of course is incredibly important in the context of the shortages.  The list does go on, and these issues are important.

Only a limited number of international observers were invited to observe the elections, those largely seen as being friendly to the current government of Zimbabwe.  But there is some decent information about both the pre-election conditions and what appears to have been a relative calm election day itself.  And now we wait. 

Yesterday, reports were that there was a very, very heavy presence of riot police in Harare on the streets.  The MDC has claimed that they are victorious, that all of their information suggests that they have won and won handily.  And they have been warned then by the government against making these claims.  The government position is that only the electoral commission can announce results.  Of course, the ZEC is not seen as independent.  The president has appointed all of the members.

And that's about the size of where we're at right now.

HOLMES:  Well, Michelle, one is immediately struck by the Kenya parallel, in part because it occurred just a couple of months ago and in part because it all surrounded the tallying and announcement of the results.  But I realize that there are some important differences here as well.  Could you elaborate a little bit on this parallel with Kenya?

GAVIN:  Sure.  And you're absolutely right.  There's been a fair bit of talk, I think, in the media about drawing the comparison with Kenya.  And I think it is important to note that these are very, very different societies.

While Zimbabwe is dealing with a host of problems, it doesn't have the same kind of simmering, intra-communal tensions that have long existed, occasionally bubbling up into violence, in Kenya.  It's simply -- the grievances that exist in Zimbabwe are quite different, though in both countries there is concern about income and equality, it's not so much linked to ethnic identity in Zimbabwe.  It's more a sense that elites very, very close to President Mugabe and his inner circle have enjoyed very lucrative opportunities in recent years, the very years that have been the period of Zimbabwe's economic collapse.  So that's an important difference.

And the political conditions leading to this -- (inaudible) -- have been quite different as well.  Kenya had been enjoying the first non-KANU government in its history, so there had been a very important election that had removed the party that had ruled Kenya since independence, and a sense of more political freedom.  That had been the context that led up to a very, very tight election in December, whereas in Zimbabwe we've seen a long period of political crisis.

And there had been speculation for years, really since the 2000 referendum in which the government found that its preferred constitutional changes were rejected by the electorate.  And this really kicked off a great deal of the political repression that was to follow. 

Since that time, there has been a pretty tight hold on political expression in Zimbabwe.  There's not necessarily an expectation that the entire process would have been free and fair.  As I said earlier, everyone knows that the pre-election conditions weren't free and fair, so it's a bit different.

And over the course of this long crisis in Zimbabwe we haven't seen a great deal of intra-communal violence, a great deal of civil violence in the country.  We've certainly seen security forces and ruling party-affiliated militias violently repress opposition supporters.  Certainly there have also been cases of youth groups associated with the MDC sometimes engaging in violent acts, although it's not as if there's an equal number of instances between the two.

But you haven't seen this kind of widespread violence thus far, and one wonders, would this necessarily be a trigger for something that dismal economic and political conditions haven't triggered for years and years.

HOLMES:  Yeah, I would also note that one huge difference between the Zimbabwe and the Kenya situations are that it was the announcement of the election results that kicked off this intensive international mediation effort led by Kofi Annan, whereas in the case of Zimbabwe, that international mediation effort has been going on for the past seven or eight years.  And so the options available in the Kenya situation would seem to be largely exhausted in that of Zimbabwe. 

There are some other options that exist -- sanctions and internal negotiations among ZANU-PF senior leadership and between the opposition and the ZANU-PF leadership.  But the whole international dimension has a long history in the case of Zimbabwe.

GAVIN:  Well, I would actually disagree with that a little bit.  Much of the international community has been quite unwilling to engage in the Zimbabwe situation.  And it's been left largely to SADC, which has a different set of interests and constraints than, for example, some kind of serious A.U. action would have or even U.N. action.  So I do think there still is a range of international possibilities.

HOLMES:  I hope you're right, because an article I'm reading now on the Web site posted today says that the Zimbabwe electoral commission is about to announce Robert Mugabe's victory while, at the same time, leaks from within the electoral commission say that he only got 20 percent of the vote, compared to almost half for Morgan Tsvangirai, the head of the MDC, and 28 percent for Simba Makoni.  So it looks like the train wreck could well be happening in a very short period of time.

At this point, though, I think we'll turn to taking questions from the journalists on the call. 

Ashley (sp), could you please announce who the questioner will be and we'll take them in the order in which they indicated they had one?

OPERATOR:  At this time we will open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question, please press the "star" key, followed by the "one" key on your touch-tone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received.  If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, press star-two.

Our first question comes from Austin Bay (sp) from Arena USA.

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, Michelle, Tony.  Michelle, you seemed to play down the ethnic dimension in Zimbabwe, yet over the last eight, nine years I've certainly seen plenty of material about the -- Mugabe favoring the Shona, and some of it quite radical. 

Why do you play down that particular dimension of the situation in Zimbabwe?

GAVIN:  Well, it's certainly true that Mugabe's always had some strength in Shona strongholds, but it's not true that it's only, for example, the Ndebele who have supported the MDC.

Morgan Tsvangirai is popular in Bulawayo, but he's popular elsewhere as well.  And it's not -- these aren't actually ethnic parties in the way that most political coalitions, for example in Kenya, are.  That's simply not the case. 

And while there is of course the very, very bitter history of what happened in the '80s in Matabeleland, it's not the case that in Zimbabwe there's tremendous social tension between ethnic groups.  I just think it's a very, very different society.

HOLMES:   I agree.  I think there are lots of ethnic issue in Zimbabwe, particularly going back to the '80s, and Robert Mugabe has quite a history, a horrendous history, to live down.

But I think concerning this particular election that the ethnic dimension is basically non-existent.

Ashley (sp), next questioner?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  And our next question comes from James Kirchick with The Republican magazine.

QUESTIONER:  Sorry, that's The New Republic magazine.  (Laughter.)

What will be the response of SADC, in particular South Africa, to a Mugabe declaration of victory?

GAVIN:  Well, I wish I had accurate -- (inaudible) -- there.  But I think -- what I can say is I think that's a really important question, obviously. 

President Mbeki, who's got his own difficult, bitter pills to swallow domestically now, certainly -- but he also lost a lot of face with this mediation effort that really did collapse.  He encouraged the MDC to make some pretty significant concessions in what was the last big breakthrough of the mediation, and that was the constitutional amendment 18.

And civil society was angry with the MDC for going along with this.  And everyone's understanding had been that the MDC made that decision because Mbeki had given his word that it was a first step and that there was, for example, going to be a new constitution that was going to be in place before elections.  And it simply -- it was a failed effort and a very difficult one. 

It's interesting to see that the SADC parliamentary forum, which has been more outspoken than other SADC entities, wasn't invited to observe this election.  And the SADC body that was invited issued a preliminary statement suggesting that the elections had been, I believe -- I'm trying to remember what the two adjectives that they chose --

HOLMES:  "Peaceful and credible."

GAVIN:  Thank you.  It certainly wasn't free and fair.  Peaceful and credible.  But there was dissent expressed, but it was from members of the DA in South Africa. 

So unfortunately, there's a bit of politicization of the issue in South Africa that makes it perhaps difficult to call it like it is, but I also think that the South Africans are well aware of the stakes of the Zimbabwe crisis. 

They've had the huge flood of economic refugees; they know that this isn't a good thing for investor confidence.  And they have such a serious stake in ensuring some degree of stability and a real desire to see the situation in Zimbabwe turn around.  So it's a new set of questions that will be confronting the South African leadership, and I think it's going to be awfully interesting to see how they react. 

I do think that the increased international attention to this election in particular puts more pressure on Mbeki to -- not to simply acquiesce to an announcement that Mugabe's won, which doesn't seem like it would be credible at this point.

HOLMES:  And I would add only that what Mugabe really needs is some sort of SADC observer blessing for what's transpired.  And on the face of it, this has been so patently bald that that seems impossible for him to acquire.

The South African role has been one largely of silence.  There was an op-ed over the weekend in the Financial Times about that.  It's just been stunning how mute the South Africans have been since their mediation effort collapsed when Mugabe insisted on going forward with the election by the end of March on the basis of the old constitution, even though that they had negotiated a new constitution with the opposition and the Zimbabwean government.

Ashley (sp), next question, please?

OPERATOR:  And our next question comes from -- (inaudible) -- from the Mishpacha Magazine of Israel.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  That's Shira Yehudit Djlilmand from Mishpacha Magazine in Israel.

HOLMES:  Okay.

QUESTIONER:  I write for an international Jewish magazine, and I'm interested in the situation of the Jews in Zimbabwe, particularly after the elections.  I've read a great deal about Mugabe's anti-Semitism and also that many of the Jewish community have flown the country over the past 10 years or so.  Do you have anything to add to that, if they're going to be particularly affected?  Any specific ramifications for them?

HOLMES:  Michelle, do you have a perspective?

GAVIN:  I have to be completely honest with you, I don't.  Certainly I'm well aware of some statements that President Mugabe's made that are anti-Semitic in the extreme.  But I don't --

QUESTIONER:  (Inaudible.)

GAVIN:  I don't have any light to shed on the issue.  I'm sorry.

HOLMES:  Shira, I would only add that any emigration from Zimbabwe by the Jewish community would be in the context of a huge overall emigration, both of black Zimbabweans, as well as the white community, which is now about half of -- it's estimated to be under 50,000, which is about half of what it was when I was living in Zimbabwe in the mid-1990s.

And then, of course, the economic context, the collapse of the economy has been a major impetus behind that.

QUESTIONER:  So you would think that anything that will be affecting the Jewish community will be pretty much affecting the whole population?

HOLMES:  I'm not aware of any specific harassment, or worse, targeted at the Jewish community.  But then, I certainly haven't been --

QUESTIONER:  (Inaudible) -- for different political parties.  The MDC I understand would be better for them.  They seem to be less anti-Semitic.

HOLMES:  I don't think there's anybody in Zimbabwe, other than a small handful of people surrounding Robert Mugabe, who would not be better off under an opposition --

QUESTIONER:  (Laughs.)  Okay.  That's good to hear.  Thank you.

HOLMES:  Okay.

Ashley (sp), next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Matthew Kaminski from The Wall Street Journal.  

Q    I just want to follow up on Jamie's question about SADC and South Africa.

Is there any indication that Jacob Zuma has different views on Zimbabwe and Mugabe, and that he is starting to play a role in terms of shaping African foreign policy?

GAVIN:  Well, it's widely understood that Jacob Zuma is more willing to criticize Robert Mugabe.  There's a different set of personal histories there from the one -- from the baggage that Thabo Mbeki carries around.  So there had been a sense that a Zuma administration might be perhaps more forward-leaning on pushing for reform in Zimbabwe. 

But I do not have a sense that Zuma has been using his new political muscle at this point in South Africa on the Zimbabwe issue.  He certainly -- (chuckles) -- has a number of other things on his mind, including his legal status.

But -- there's a sense that, hmm, the times may be a-changing in South Africa with a Zuma administration vis-a-vis Zimbabwe, but I don't think we've really seen a manifestation for that yet.

HOLMES:  I think that's correct.  Zuma's been very circumspect about his engagement in foreign affairs.  He's the head of the party; he's not the head of -- he's not the president of South Africa.

The one country that he has engaged on, and this has created quite a few waves in South Africa, is a positive re-engagement with Angola, where there has been for a number of years some tension in the relationship between Mbeki and the Angolans.  And that elicited a lot of comment in South Africa, because he is just the head of the party. 

So it remains to be seen how his position on Zimbabwe will evolve, but I would expect that what's happening now in Zimbabwe will accelerate that process.

Ashley (sp), next one, please?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  And our next question comes from Lawrence Freeman from EIR Magazine.

QUESTIONER:  Yes, my question is how much do you think the prejudices and antagonism towards Mugabe, particularly coming from the West and the Western media, may be influencing what people think happened during the election?  I mean, what I observed last week is from many different groups, as well as the MDC, but from inside the United States.  And also you referenced this London Times piece. 

People are almost saying that if Mugabe won, it would be ipso facto proof that there was vote fraud.  And Tsvangirai, as far as I saw, was actually declaring himself the winner while the election was still going on on Saturday.  And there's been a whole buildup in the press because people (have wanted to ?) attack Mugabe, I guess, for maybe up to 10 years, in a very heavy way. 

So is there an idea now, well, we don't know what the election results were.  They've been delayed.  It looks like the parliamentary is pretty close, but the very fact that he won, that must mean there was vote fraud and therefore we're going to put pressure on everybody, and everybody's going to held accountable where they stand on the vote fraud, even though the results weren't even official.  I mean, it's not the first time in any country in the world, plus our own, that results have been delayed for several days.  And that's not in itself a reason to assume vote fraud.

But is this prejudicial attitude toward Mugabe already operating in the media and in the West?

GAVIN:  Well, I see your point, which is that it's awfully hard to understand, perhaps, given what we know about economic conditions, for example, in Zimbabwe, hard to think that people would be rallying around the incumbent. 

But I don't think that it's the case that some anti-Mugabe bias has seized everyone who's been looking at this election who noticed, first of all, the pre-election conditions, which were not free and fair and were, in fact, heavily weighted toward the ruling party.  Heavily weighted toward Mugabe.  So there's that issue itself.

And then there's the fact that the reports that have come out from on the ground do suggest that there was quite a strong vote for the MDC.  And there were results posted outside of many polling places that seemed to make this plain, not just, in fact, in traditional MDC strongholds, but in some cases in rural areas where before ZANU-PF had done quite well and where many people who observed this from West and elsewhere had expected that ZANU-PF might remain strong.

So I don't think that's the case at all, and I think there is very good reason to be concerned about this long delay in announcing the results.  You're absolutely right; there are other places where there are delays in announcing results, but there hasn't been a very good explanation for what exactly this process is that's taking so very long.

QUESTIONER:  Well, I agree.  There's been no explanation of anything, but I'm just saying I heard people say in Washington that if Mugabe wins, that means there's vote fraud.  And then I think someone may have implied on this call that if SADC, which I think has already said it's a fair or free election.  If SADC doesn't agree that there's vote fraud, then we're going to put pressure on SADC and Mbeki.

So I see a rather -- it doesn't seem to me to be a reasonable approach, except the only center of the whole approach is Mugabe won, that's vote fraud, and then everybody's going to be pressured.  Because SADC is on the ground, and they've issued a statement.  So are we going to ignore that, or do we just --

HOLMES:  Well, they haven't issued a --

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER:  Right.  Right.

GAVIN:  Well, part of SADC is on the ground.  They've issued a preliminary statement, which was before the tallying process. 


GAVIN:  So it can't speak to the tabulation.

QUESTIONER:  That's right.

GAVIN:  It spoke to election day itself.  And while there have been localized reports where at this polling place, for example, people were turned away for no good reason, et cetera, one always gets localized reports like that.  And it does -- based on what I know, it does seem that voting -- the voting process itself, given what the problems were initially with the voters roll, et cetera, was -- went reasonably well.

And so my understanding is that's what this element of SADC has commented on, and they in fact didn't use the words "free and fair."

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, that's right.

HOLMES:  I'd also add that -- in searching the Internet to prepare for this conference call, I've been really struck by the fact that virtually all of the comment so far has been from Africans, the vast majority of whom have been Zimbabweans themselves.  The head of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which is a domestic, indigenous Zimbabwean group which has had 11,000 monitors at all 9,000-plus polling stations has been outspoken. 

And the MDC comments didn't occur until Sunday.

QUESTIONER:  No, that's not true.  There were comments made on Saturday.  And there were practically comments made on Friday to the effect.

HOLMES:  But most of the criticism that I saw related to the pre-voting lack of a level playing field.  The things like the salary increases and the free cars to people and the media bias and the excessive number of ballots printed and that sort of thing.  But I haven't seen the ones related to expecting Mugabe to lose until the preliminary reports from individual precincts had started getting out.

What's really new this year, which had never been done -- or it certainly wasn't done in the elections in 2002 and 2005 -- is this precinct-level posting of results.  And in an era when many Zimbabweans now have cell phones, it's just inevitable that this sort of partial reporting gets out.

Ashley (sp), next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from David Sands from The Washington Times.

QUESTIONER:  Yeah, thanks for taking my call.  Could you talk a little bit about Mr. Makoni's role in this election, and if he actually did come in second, how he might be affecting the debate over the recount -- or the challenge to the election?

GAVIN:  Sure.  Well, it's an interesting role, certainly.  And Simba Makoni, widely viewed as a highly, highly competent technocratic kind of figure, was -- people had been waiting, essentially, for someone within ZANU-PF to challenge Mugabe in a very public way. 

There had been, for years, jockeying within the ruling party among some pretty powerful elements as people try and get themselves in position to be the successor to Mugabe.  And the sort of urgency of this jockeying has increased over time, as the circle of people who are actually able to make money off the situation shrinks, and as some very senior and quite well off people within ZANU-PF become concerned about the sort of long-term outlook for their own investments and wealth, and they are ready to see things turn around at some point.  So there's long been this sense that there's some dissatisfaction within ZANU-PF. 

And then you have Simba Makoni announce that he wants to run for president.  Now, he's not one of these super-powerful figures that people have been talking about for a long time -- the Mnangagwas and Muzurus, et cetera.  But he does -- a significant profile internationally, certainly, because his technocratic skills are quite respected.

It wasn't at all clear he had much of a political constituency within Zimbabwe, but there's been much speculation about just who, within ZANU-PF, backs Makoni.  And it could be one of these very powerful figures.

And so one thing that's interesting about Makoni is his participation raised the question might some of the security forces be -- that have helped to swing the situation toward Mugabe in the past, might they be backing Makoni?  Might it be the case that some of the infrastructure that's been used in the past to rig elections -- and there's certainly some evidence of that in the past -- might some of that infrastructure actually choose to be loyal to Makoni instead of to Mugabe, making it harder to deliver the kind of electoral outcome that Robert Mugabe would like to see.  So all of this is an interesting question.

Now, the various indicators that we have about how the polling went -- and they're all, of course, incomplete and unofficial -- suggests that Makoni didn't sweep up a lot of votes.  So it would be -- it seems to me, at this point, unlikely that he would be a figure, in a run-off, of a great deal of significance.  But it's hard to say with the numbers being as incomplete as they are.

Certainly he helped kind of shake loose this idea that everyone who had rallied behind ZANU-PF before, or everyone who was uncomfortable with the MDC for one reason or another, had no choice but to back Mugabe and the system that's been in place for a while.

HOLMES:  Ashley (sp), next question, please?

OPERATOR:  Once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press the "star" key, followed by the "one" key on your touch-tone phone now. 

HOLMES:  Okay, let me add, then, while we're waiting to see if there are any more questions, that, related to Makoni, two things:  that article I just cited on says that the information being leaked by the electoral commission headquarters had Makoni at 28 percent.  That's two or three times the level of votes that the early reports that had been leaking out from around the country indicated, but put him in second place.

The same leak indicated that Tsvangirai had just under 50 percent.  So if that is accurate -- and that's quite a big if -- that would indicate that there would be Tsvangirai-Makoni run-off, if things were done as they should be done.  And that would be a completely different story, but it is interesting.

The other thing I would note is the real power broker in ZANU-PF who is most closely associated with Makoni is retired General Solomon Mujuru, and that his wife is the sitting vice president in Mugabe.  And, I guess, credible reports coming out of Harare now are that she lost her parliamentary seat. 

So you have this anomaly of Makoni possibly having come in second and in line for a run-off at the same time that the sitting politician most closely associated with his powerful backer lost her seat.

HOLMES:  Ashley (sp), any more questions?

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Stephanie Hanson from CFR.

HOLMES:  Dot o-r-g.

QUESTIONER:  I was wondering if you could speak a bit about the security groups and what role they might be expected to play, whatever the outcome of the election.

GAVIN:  Terrific question, and one of the most important ones. 

As I've mentioned, there have been these warring statements by some senior security officials, essentially suggesting that they're not willing to serve any of the presidential candidates besides President Mugabe.

Now, it's not at all clear that these people actually speak for the entirety of the security services, and there are very problems, not just at the junior officer level -- and I speak both of the police and of the military here -- but also in the middle tier of people regarding actually getting paid and getting paid enough to survive.

So whereas earlier in Zimbabwe's political crisis you had many reports of situations in which opposition supporters would be beaten, for example, by police and the police would, over the course of this kind of activity, be spouting ZANU-PF slogans, et cetera, and sort of appearing to be true believers.  And over the years, increasingly, one sees reports in which police and security services personnel express a fair bit of sympathy for the MDC.

I remember seeing a report this weekend that suggested the MDC was ahead at a polling place by a barracks where one had -- the larger part of the voters were actually members of the security forces.  So there are divided loyalties, clearly, within these forces.

Now, there's also the issue of the central intelligence organization, which is extremely powerful in Zimbabwe and greatly feared.  And again, you have very senior people who've been taken care of, but it's not clear -- this is also a very savvy, very canny organization that's going to be interested in what's on deck for the future and positioning itself well for inevitable change.  So again, it's not clear that those loyalties can be counted on entirely. 

People like the Mujurus have a great deal of power and clout with the security services, and Emerson Mnangagwa has his own power network.  So the ZANU-PF is not a monolith, and neither are the security services.

HOLMES:  Ashley (sp), next question.

OPERATOR:  Thank you, and our next question comes from Patricia Hartwell from GalHart Media.

QUESTIONER:  Hello, folks.  I actually came into the conversation a little bit late, so forgive me if my question has already been answered.

I'm very curious, what are some of the key indicators that, just in the next sort of 48 to 72 hours that we should keep our eyes on that you think would be an indicator of --whatever? 

And the second question is is it possible for this phone call to be made available as an MP3 for -- if you'd like to sort of review, listening to it or if, like myself, you were not able to be in at the very beginning?

HOLMES:  Well, I can tell you that it'll be -- MP3 -- the audio will be placed on the Web site very quickly --

QUESTIONER:  The Web site, okay.

HOLMES:  -- and a transcript will follow by the end of the day or early tomorrow. 

Michelle, would you like to get the substantive --

GAVIN:  On the question of indicators, right.  Well, to state the painfully obvious, of course, we're all waiting for an announcement -- (laughs) -- from the electoral commission, of course.  But I think it's also important to watch the security services. 

Any more -- are there more of these statements that are extremely concerning?  There obviously had been a statement on Friday sort of warning people against premature announcement of victory, et cetera.  Basically warning the MDC against exactly what they did, which was take their own information and announce what they perceived to be a victory.

But do we see other statements that are of great concern?  Do we see even more activity than just the patrols that we've seen thus far?  I think those things are very important.  Mobilization of party militias, that's incredibly important.  I think it's important to see what the MDC calls on its supporters to do or not do.  How confrontational do they choose to be? 

Again, I think it's very important for everyone to keep in mind that Zimbabwe's a very different society from Kenya, and they're at a very different place politically from the one that Kenya was at.

But my mind goes to the standoff in Kenya and to the fact that initially Raila Odinga's only leverage really was to make that country ungovernable, to some degree, with mass action to try and prevent a fait accompli kind of situation.

Now, in the past when the MDC has called for mass action, the results have been mixed.  Sometimes they don't really get the kind of turnout that they were expecting.  People are not interested -- or, in the past have not been interested on a large scale in sort of being mowed down.

But with the questions that exist now about where the loyalties of the security services are at, it's possible that one will see these kinds of calls.  I'm not saying that they will, and I'm certainly not saying that they should.  But I think these are the kinds of things we should watch to see how the tensions that we all know are there are going to play out.

HOLMES:  I agree.  I think that the Zimbabwe population is quite cowed because of years and years of brutality and intimidation, as well as the fact that 3 (million) or 4 million Zimbabweans, the most dynamic, have already left the country and are living in South Africa or other neighboring countries.

So the tinder for the powder keg is less tense in Zimbabwe for the reasons that Michelle mentioned, as well as the fact that there are fewer people there and the government two years ago essentially emptied out all of the high-density neighborhoods surrounding Harare and Bulawayo, and sent those people back to the countryside.  So there is somewhat less potential for a spontaneous eruption than there would be under normal circumstances, even in Zimbabwe.

GAVIN:  But I don't discount it.  I want to --

HOLMES:  Yeah, right.  No, I agree.  Don't discount it, but it's certainly not Kenya.

Ashley (sp), another question?

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Jim Escudo from ABC News.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  Jim Schutto (sp), but that's all right.

How credible do you -- just looking at this report on the Web site there, how credible -- (cell phone rings) -- in fact, this is the Institute for War Reporting calling me, I believe.  (Laughter.)  How credible do you think their account is?  Is that what you're hearing on the ground as well, or do you have contacts there that can confirm that?  Does it sound credible to you?

GAVIN:  This is this report that --

HOLMES:  The one I cited --

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER:  That he's claimed victory.  They seem to have fairly decent sourcing there inside the electoral commission, the ZEC, et cetera.

GAVIN:  I agree, and I respect their work.  But the contacts that I have in Zemen and Southern Africa that I've been talking to this weekend, there are so many rumors of impending announcements and various plans that I personally just don't feel like I'm in a great position to sift from among them, because I'm not on the ground.

So I'm sorry.  I don't mean to just punt, but I just don't feel like I'm in a terrific position to say that I think that that's probably the accurate story.

QUESTIONER:  That's fair.

HOLMES:  I mean, if we take it at face value -- and I don't think we'll have to wait real long before we see something else, or this continues to evolve.

QUESTIONER:  Okay.  Thank you.

HOLMES:  Ashley (sp), next?

OPERATOR:  The next question comes from (Lisa Mulcahy ?) from Reuters.

HOLMES:  Hello, Lisa?

OPERATOR:  Ms. -- (inaudible) -- if she's connected.

And our next question comes from Shira Djlilmand from Mishpacha Magazine of Israel.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  Shira Yehudit; I know it's hard to pronounce.

Okay, I have two questions.  First of all, when we finally get the election results, if it becomes clear that Mugabe really has lost, bottom line, is he likely to agree to stand down and, if not, what is going to happen?

And secondly, if the MDC do assume control, how can they begin to reverse the economic crisis?  How can they possibly reduce the incredible inflation figures?  What are they going to do?

GAVIN:  Well, it seems to me that, given the fact that the ZEC is not an independent body, if the electoral commission makes an announcement that President Mugabe has not won, then I think that that is an indicator that there has already been a decision to accept the fact that -- on President Mugabe's part, to accept that he has not won.  That is my strong suspicion.  So I --

QUESTIONER:  Do you think he will actually agree to stand down?

GAVIN:  I think if that is the official announcement from the ZEC, then that's probably what that will mean.

I just also want to throw out that there's another possibility here, and I'm sure most people on the call are aware of it.  When constitutional amendment 18 was passed, one of the things that changed was the way Zimbabwe copes with a vacancy in the presidency. 

So one possibility that some people had seen in the long run-up to this election was that there would be another Mugabe victory -- whether or not it's free and fair would be open to debate, probably -- but that there would be another Mugabe victory and that he would then resign. 

And what that would mean is that instead of having a new election, which is the way Zimbabwean politics would have worked in the past, under this new amendment parliament would then choose the successor.  So that was seen as one way that the ruling party might be able to manage a transition, recognizing that it's just not sustainable to go on as things are, but that would also save face for President Mugabe.  So I throw that out there into the mix of possibilities and wild speculation as well.  (Chuckles.) 

And then if the MDC were to gain control of the presidency, I think for almost anyone gaining control of the presidency that the steps toward stabilization and recovery are fairly clear.  One needs to enact some basic reforms that will give the international community the kind of confidence necessary to get serious international help with, most immediately, an economic stabilization plan to address this hyperinflationary situation.

And this has been done in other parts of the world.  It's not -- it doesn't have to be invented out of whole cloth.  But is required is a degree of confidence on the part of the international backers who would be behind that.

And then there's going to need to be a very significant international investment in bringing the economy back, and that's going to require everything from support for the agricultural sector, which -- a prerequisite for that is going to have to be an internal domestic decision to address the land issue and try and sort out what is now a very, very messy land tenure situation. 

And the MDC is well aware of things like this.  They have a quite extensive, in fact, white paper on how they would proceed to set up a land commission to try and sort out the various claims that exist now, et cetera. 

So there sort of have been blueprints for a while about what a government would need to do to put the conditions in place that would allow both a return to some normalcy internally, and also a new degree of international engagement that's going to be required to get the economy on its feet again.

QUESTIONER:  How long would it be likely to take for a government to be able to return the situation to normalcy?

GAVIN:  Ah.  (Chuckles.) 

QUESTIONER:  (Inaudible.)

GAVIN:  Well, it sort of depends on what one means by "normal."  I think it's possible to see significant improvement fairly quickly once one gets a stabilization program in place. 

QUESTIONER:  (Inaudible.)

GAVIN:  But how long would it take, for example, to get to restore the kind of economy that had been in place in Zimbabwe for a long time, where you had a real thriving middle class, et cetera.  That seems more like, based on conversations that I've had, much more like a eight- to 10-year project.

HOLMES:  And a very long-term proposition.  Because the agricultural sector has probably been permanently disrupted, and the manufacturing industry was based on processing of agricultural output.  So we're talking a very long-term proposition for it to recover where it was a decade ago.

But I would also say that in the wake of a successful political transition, there will be tremendous enthusiasm and good will on the part of the international donor community to assist Zimbabwe.  And if they are willing to achieve consensus in the country between the opposition and remnants of ZANU-PF to make those economic reforms and to put themselves on a rational economic track, I would imagine that the international community, including the United States, would be very generous in responses.

GAVIN:  Just one final point.  There's a great deal of private sector interest in Zimbabwe.  And there are those who've been snapping up available assets now while the prices are very cheap, but there are also those who've been biding their time, waiting for change, wanting to go in and invest.

So I do think there'll be a significant private sector element to recovery as well.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

HOLMES:  Ashley (sp), do we have another question?

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Dominic Muntanga, from Council of Zimbabwe.

HOLMES:  Okay, and we'll have one more question after this.


QUESTIONER:  My question is pertaining to, if you look at the numbers of Zimbabweans that might have left the country, particularly the middle class that Michelle talked about that was there in the '90s, it's pretty much evaporated.  A lot of those people are -- they're in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and some other places.

Do you see the international community, if MDC wins or if Mugabe resigns, do you see the possibility of the international community finding a mechanism for engaging these people?  Because I believe that without most of these people, it may be pretty much impossible to kind of get Zimbabwe back to where it was, particularly if you look at --

The reports that we're getting from home are that school teachers are crossing the border every day, going to South Africa.  And then -- (inaudible) -- are going to Australia and other places.

GAVIN:  Yeah.  No, it's a great point.  It's one that everybody who's been looking at this issue has been making, that an awful lot of Zimbabwe's human capital has fled.  Some of these are the most skilled Zimbabweans.  And how does one encourage their return and encourage their participation in trying to rebuild Zimbabwean society, the Zimbabwean economy?  And I do think this is something the internationals are well aware of.  It's mentioned at international conferences on this issue. 

And there are some instances -- for example, in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there have been efforts in place to try and encourage skilled returnees.  But a great deal of it is going to depend on a bigger picture of creating conditions within Zimbabwe that appear stable enough and appealing enough for skilled people, who are quite capable of making a good living abroad, to make the decision to go home.

And then of course many of these are extraordinarily patriotic Zimbabweans.  They've been lobbying the governments in the countries where they live now to try and encourage more engagement.  And there is a sense that a significant portion of this population would like to go home and contribute.  But it is -- ultimately, these are individual decisions. 

So the international community can be aware of the issue, can try and make it easier, can certainly try and encourage consultation with Zimbabwean civil society, both in and out of the country.  But I think there's probably only so much that the international community can do on this point.

HOLMES:  Okay, and Ashley (sp), our final questioner?

OPERATOR:  Our final question comes from Jim Schutto (sp) from ABC News.

QUESTIONER:  Hey, there, Michelle.  Sorry to bother you again.  I wonder, is it possible to call you after this call on a phone number, just for some follow-up?

GAVIN:  Yeah, absolutely.  You can give me a call.  The best number now would be 212 434-9496.

QUESTIONER:  Nine four nine six.  Thank you.  I'm sorry, I hope I didn't use up the last question.

HOLMES:  Well, I hope not as well.  We've got a couple more minutes, so Ashley (sp), if there was one more in queue and that person hasn't abandoned us, we can take a final question.

OPERATOR:  Once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press the "star" key, followed by the "one" key on your touch-tone phone now.  We are currently holding for questions.

GAVIN:  Well, it sounds like we can wrap it up.

HOLMES:  Okay.  Anyway, Michelle, thank you very much.  This has been very interesting and timely, and -- Lord knows what transpires over the next few days could lead us to have to reschedule -- or to schedule another one of these in the not-too-distant future.

GAVIN:  It's certainly interesting to watch.  And thanks to everyone who joined us.

HOLMES:  All right.  Thank you all very much.  Signing off.










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