WASHINGTON - Zimbabwe's civil society groups and the U.S. government agree that the decision by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to withdraw from this Friday's run-off election was the right one, but as talk of potential negotiations and military interventions abound, no one can predict with any certainty what will happen next.
Civil society networks expressed strong support for Tsvangirai's decision because violence by Zimbabwean armed forces and militias tied to President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party meant "there is no possibility at all for a free and fair election," Briggs Bomba of Africa Action told OneWorld.
The United States' Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer spoke on several radio programs Tuesday morning arguing the same point, and played a key role in winning a unanimous UN Security Council vote Monday condemning the Mugabe government for violence.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for postponement of the run-off election.
Zimbabwean groups and Washington also agree on the critical role to be played by Zimbabwe's neighbors and other African countries, especially through regional organizations such as the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU).
African countries have been slow to respond to the crisis in Zimbabwe due to long-standing agreements on non-interference in each other's affairs.
But a coalition of more than 50 civil society organizations argue that Mugabe's government is attacking and starving its people and can thus no longer be considered a legitimate government. Yesterday the groups issued an appeal to the AU to lead a "mediation process" with support from SADC and the United Nations, and to bolster a "protection force" to stand up to Mugabe's troops and militias.
Citing the African Charter on Human Rights and AU agreements that intervention is called for in cases of "grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity," the civil society leaders argued that "African Union engagement...is fully mandated by conditions on the ground and urgently needed."
SADC leaders are set to meet this weekend, and some appear more open than in the past to moving beyond the "quiet diplomacy" advocated by South African President Thabo Mbeki to a more forceful position.
Washington also recognizes that the most effective pressure on Zimbabwe's aging president has to come from other African leaders, and has been urging them to speak out.
In addition, Frazer said that if Mugabe continues with his unopposed election and widespread violence against opposition members, the United States could impose a new set of "targeted" sanctions stronger than those now in effect, and could encourage allies in the West to join in.
The impact of such multilateral sanctions could be a further weakening of Zimbabwe's already tortured economy, but other than working the diplomatic circuit the United States has few options.
Early Wednesday, however, Tsvangirai urged an even more forceful international response.
Writing in Britain's Guardian newspaper, the MDC leader called for a new vote amid the protection of a UN peacekeeping force and international election monitors from the African Union and United Nations.
"We do not want armed conflict, but the people of Zimbabwe need the words of indignation from global leaders to be backed by the moral rectitude of military force," wrote Tsvangirai, adding that peacekeepers "would separate the people from their oppressors and cast the protective shield around the democratic process for which Zimbabwe yearns."
The situation in Zimbabwe became particularly acute after elections in March, when the MDC appeared to have won a majority in both the legislative and executive branches.
The MDC was awarded a majority of seats in the Parliament -- unprecedented since ZANU-PF began its lengthy rule -- but the official vote tally gave Tsvangirai only 47.9 percent of the popular vote, against 43.2 percent for Mugabe. Zimbabwe's electoral rules require that, in the absence of a majority of over 50 percent, a run-off must be held.
The lengthy delay in announcing the vote tally led many observers to doubt the official results, believing Mugabe's party had stalled for time to ensure the final tally would not put Tsvangirai over the 50-percent threshold.
Mugabe's refusal to acknowledge the MDC victory, and the subsequent violence against MDC activists convinced Tsvangirai to withdraw from the race over the weekend and seek refuge in the Dutch Embassy. Washington then announced it would not honor any results from Friday's vote, which it branded "illegitimate."
Africa Action's Bomba believes that as a consummate "brinksman," Mugabe will go ahead with the run-off Friday despite widespread condemnation and move toward further consolidating his power base in the country.
Civil society groups agree that elections should be postponed. Some would like to see a new constitution in place before new elections are held; others support a "transitional arrangement" involving power sharing by the MDC and Mugabe's ZANU-PF, Bomba said following a conference call with several local groups.
Washington's "best case scenario" for Zimbabwe, outlined by Ambassador Frazer Tuesday, would involve talks between Mugabe and Tsvangirai that result in a decision to postpone elections while seeking a "negotiated transitional solution."
Frazer noted that Tsvangirai had expressed openness to a power-sharing arrangement in recent weeks, and that Washington will "follow his lead" if such an arrangement were accepted by Mugabe, adding that to date the Zimbabwean leader has not expressed interest in a negotiated settlement.
But Tsvangirai's latest proposal -- for a new vote backed by international military force -- may signal that the window for negotiations has closed.
Zimbabweans now await a response from President Mugabe and the international community.
© 2008 One World.net