The prime minister of Zimbabwe claims that President Robert Mugabe would step down from his 32-year rule if he did not win elections planned for next year.
The comments by prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, while doubted by many, are a welcome sign that perhaps the longtime leader of Zimbabwe may be ready to relinquish power.
“I’m sure he will accept the result,” Tsvangirai said during an official trip to New Zealand. “I do not see any reason why he should plunge the country again into another dispute.
“I think he’s committed, for his own legacy and the legacy of the country, to move forward and he has to accept the result if it is conducted in a free and fair manner.”
The statement is especially meaningful because after Mugabe lost the first round of the election in 2008 against Tsvangirai, his longtime political opponent, there were widespread allegations that the election had been rigged by Mugabe’s forces inside the government. Because neither candidate had received a plurality, a runoff election was scheduled—but the nation was plunged into chaos and violence in the months before the runoff, with many deaths and much intimidation, leading Tsvangirai to pull out, claiming Mugabe would never step down if he lost. Eventually the two men agreed to a power-sharing arrangement brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki.
Since 2002, Zimbabwe has been under economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union and President Mugabe himself is under travel restriction. However, the European Union announced Monday that it will suspend most of its sanctions on Zimbabwe leaders and organization—though not on Mugabe—as soon as the country holds “a peaceful and credible” referendum on a new constitution.
In the past Tsvangirai has said some of Zimbabwe’s military chiefs have told him they won’t let anyone except Mugabe rule the nation—no matter what happens in the election.
“We need to open a new chapter,” he said. “That’s why I say revenge should not be on the agenda. There should be reconciliation, rebuilding and reconstruction. That should be the future direction.”