The arrest of a human rights lawyer and MDC officials clouded a recent referendum on a new constitution, and activist groups such as Human Rights Watch say they fear tensions may rise before the election.
The European Union last month suspended sanctions against scores of Zimbabweans after the new constitution was approved. Sanctions will, however, remain in place for 10 people, including Mugabe, and two companies, including the state-run diamond-mining company Zimbabwe Mining Development Corp., whose assets will remain frozen.
Despite criticism from some MDC supporters that the party has not used its position effectively in coalition with Mugabe’s party, Tsvangirai remains optimistic that he will secure enough votes to win this year’s presidential poll.
“I won the last one. The only difference is that I did not win power. But I won an election. I have always said: What makes people think that I will not win another one? So I am very confident that the support of the people is unwavering,” he told the Financial Times in an interview.
And if he wins, he said, he will manage the transition from joint rule. “I don’t think it would be helpful for the country to go into another unity government,” he said. “A unity government just creates paralysis,” he added, citing the slow pace of reform as a particular frustration.
Asked whether Mugabe, who still dominates the political scene, would step down if Tsvangirai wins, he said: “Mugabe is [almost] 90 years. The thing is that I am sure for him the most important motivating factor is legacy.”
The once acrimonious relations between the two parties have improved over the course of the past four years, he said.
Asked what would happen if Mugabe refused to leave power in the event of an MDC victory, he said: “I don’t see that playing out . . . that is a chaos scenario. The country will go back to what it was in 2008, and . . . no one wants that.”
Parliament’s current term expires at the end of June, and a general election must be held by the end of October. A poll immediately after parliament’s term ends is unlikely, Tsvangirai said, because the new constitution needs to be signed into law and voter registration must take place. He dismissed suggestions that Mugabe’s allies want an earlier poll because of the president’s age.
“He is a frail man, he is an old man, but I don’t think he is in that state of health where you would think that he would collapse tomorrow,” he said. A graceful acceptance of defeat would allow Mugabe to enjoy the status of a retired founding father, he said.