The rift between Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and secretary-general Welshman Ncube widened as the pro-senate faction fielded 26 candidates to contest the reintroduced senate seats.
The United States embassy which had written off early warnings about an impending split within the MDC admitted that the participation of the 26 highlighted “long-standing divisions within the MDC leadership” and threatened to split the party.
The embassy, which was solidly behind Tsvangirai and his boycott, said the challenge was for Tsvangirai to prove his continued relevance to a population that had been shell-shocked by economic decline and government repression.
Viewing cable 05HARARE1603, ZIMBABWE,S NOVEMBER 26 SENATE ELECTIONS:
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001603
AF/S FOR B. NEULING
SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
STATE PLEASE PASS TO USAID FOR E. LOKEN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/23/2015
SUBJECT: ZIMBABWE,S NOVEMBER 26 SENATE ELECTIONS:
PSEUDO-RACE ECLIPSED BY MDC DIVIDE
REF: A. REF A: HARARE 001578
¶B. REF B: HARARE 001467
¶C. REF C: HARARE 001238
Classified By: Charge d’Affaires, a.i., Eric T. Schultz under Section 1
¶1. (C) November 26 marks election day for the
newly-recreated Senate. Few observers expect the institution
to produce much beyond 66 new offices to be handed out by the
government as patronage. Given voter apathy, the calls for a
boycott from MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai, and lackluster
ZANU-PF campaigning, we expect that few Zimbabweans will
bother to turn out on Saturday, likely resulting in a hollow
victory for ZANU-PF. The Senate elections have, however,
exposed festering leadership divisions within the MDC
(reftels) that will not go away after November 26. The
Embassy intends to mount a small-scale monitoring effort,
focused on Harare and Bulawayo, in conjunction with several
other western Embassies and we recommend that the Department
issue a press statement criticizing the elections as well as
the creation of the Senate. End Summary.
A Powerless Institution
¶2. (C) ZANU-PF in August used its parliamentary majority to
pass the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (17) Bill, which
among other measures reintroduced a 66-member Senate (ref C).
MDC head Tsvangirai, backed by most of his party and
virtually all of Zimbabwe,s civil society, roundly
criticized the Senate as powerless but expensive institution
that was created solely to enlarge GOZ,s opportunities for
patronage. The Senate has no power of veto and can only
delay for a few months the passage of legislation approved by
the lower house. Further reflecting this body,s
insignificance, the Senate will be done away with after five
A Sham Election
¶3. (C) Confirming its intention to use the Senate as a
patronage tool, the ruling party put forward a list political
pensioners, many of whom are members of the old guard who
lost in past elections, to contest the 50 elected seats (ref
B). (N.B. ZANU-PF was the only party to nominate candidates
in 19 seats, winning those slots unopposed; 16 additional
seats are appointed by the President.) The GOZ appears also
to have gerrymandered several Senatorial districts in order
to make inroads into MDC strongholds. An electoral analysis
(e-mailed to AF/S) by the nonpartisan Zimbabwe Election
Support Network (ZESN) found evidence of this in most
¶4. (C) MDC President Tsvangirai called for a boycott of the
election but was opposed by a group of largely Ndebele party
leaders led by party Vice President Gibson Sibanda and
Secretary General Welshman Ncube (reftels). 26 MDC
&candidates8 filed to compete in the elections. Over the
past month, even as Tsvangirai,s boycott campaign emerged
victorious among the party,s rank and file members, the
intra-party dispute heated up. As popular support for
participation eroded even in Matabeleland, the
pro-participation camp shifted its message to one against
Tsvangirai,s supposed transgressions of the party
constitution and anti-democratic tendencies.
Electorate Tuning Out
¶5. (C) The usual fanfare that has proceeded past elections
in Zimbabwe is conspicuously absent. The cities are largely
devoid of posters and the state media has reported only a
handful of rallies by ZANU-PF candidates. The majority of
voters seem apathetic about these elections and therefore all
the more likely to heed Tsvangirai,s call for a boycott.
The result is therefore likely to be a sweeping, but hollow,
ZANU-PF victory. That said, and despite the low turnout, it
is possible that some of the &MDC8 candidates could win,
especially in opposition strongholds of Matabeleland South
and North, where, as one participation-minded MDC MP told
poloff, the electorate instinctively votes against the
government come election time. It is also possible that
ZANU-PF, sensing an opportunity to further divide the
opposition, may allow some of them to win seats.
Next Steps for the MDC
¶6. (C) The intra-MDC debate over participation in the Senate
election has highlighted long-standing divisions within the
MDC leadership and has threatened to split the main
opposition party. The fates of the 26 candidates come ballot
day, however, are likely only to move the opposition into a
new phase of intra-party competition, not to conclude it.
Reflecting conventional wisdom here, former MDC mediator
Brian Raftopolous told the Charge on November 23 that
“divorce” seemed likely, but Ncube’s faction might survive
initially as a regional MDC rump that would be able to
reassess its options ) including reconciliation — in the
run-up to and in the wake of next year’s Party Congress.
That said, the challenge for Tsvangirai and the wider
opposition remains to prove their continued relevance to a
population that has been shell-shocked by economic decline
and government repression.
¶7. (C) The Charge has been meeting regularly with other
like-minded Chiefs of Mission to discuss election coverage.
Commensurate with the election’s relative insignificance, the
international community is mounting only a limited
observation campaign. Post will send one accredited officer
and staff to observe the Gutu North parliamentary by-election
) a seat that ZANU-PF is likely to retain because of a weak
MDC candidate and the rural area,s traditional allegiance to
the ruling party. Two unaccredited officers, accompanied by
an Australian diplomat and staff will be surveying Bulawayo,
where there is the most potential for election day violence.
Two unaccredited officers and staff will monitor events in
Harare. The Japanese mission indicated it might also have
one officer join us in observing Harare. The British mission
will be mounting an observation effort similar to ours.
¶8. (C) According to SADC member diplomats here, SADC organs
are sitting this election out and the issue of SADC electoral
guidelines, a prominent feature of the March parliamentary
elections have been notable for their absence this time
around. Counterparts at the South African and Namibian
Embassies told us November 21 that some of their Harare-based
diplomats would observe. According to a contact at the
Japanese Embassy, the Chinese Ambassador to Harare reported
that Beijing requested that the GOZ not invite China to
observe. For its part, the domestic monitoring organization
ZESN has denounced the elections as a fraud and will field
only ten observer teams, canvassing Gutu North, Harare, and
eight races in Matabeleland.
¶9. (C) At the last meeting of like-minded Chiefs of Mission,
the Australian and British Ambassadors indicated that their
governments were likely to issue statements condemning the
elections. The EU representatives were split. Post
recommends that Washington also issue a statement along the
— Zimbabwe’s Senate elections did not advance the cause of
democracy in Zimbabwe.
— The electoral climate in Zimbabwe is still dramatically
tilted in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party. There have been
no reforms made since the fraudulent March parliamentary
— Many of the seats were uncontested and President Mugabe
appointed still others. As a result, ZANU-PF had won a
majority in the Senate before the election was ever held.
— The political opposition opposed the creation of the
Senate as an exercise in government patronage rather than an
exercise of the popular will.
— The (expected/apparent) low turn-out further undermines
the legitimacy of the Senate.
— Zimbabwe’s multi-faceted crises demand not an expensive
new political institution but restored rule of law,
responsible economic policies, and genuine political dialogue
between the major parties and civil society.
— We urge the Government of Zimbabwe once again to establish
a political and economic framework that can restore the
country’s prosperity and hope.