U.K. Making Wrong Calculation on Zimbabwe, Opposition Says

(Bloomberg) -- Zimbabwe’s main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, accused the U.K. government of siding with the ruling party as the southern African nation gears up to hold national elections this year.

The vote will be the first since the resignation of former President Robert Mugabe, whose relations with the U.K. deteriorated after its government accused him of human-rights abuses. Mugabe’s successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has promised to revive an economy that’s halved in size since 2000 as a result of a failed land reform program, hyperinflation and mass emigration.

The U.K. is miscalculating in Zimbabwe, MDC leader Nelson Chamisa, 40, said in an address in London on Tuesday. “There’s a tendency to align with one political party against another,” he said. “There has been a shift by the British government to focus on stability at the cost of governance. That is a false calculation.”

Britain’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Catriona Laing, and her deputy Simon Thomas have faced criticism from the MDC and civil-rights organizations for tweets seen as praising the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and “on-going reforms.” Both have rejected the criticism, saying on social media that the U.K. is attempting to “normalize relations” with Zimbabwe.

Propaganda Tools

Critics including Bulawayo Senator David Coltart and the leader of the People’s Democratic Party, Tendai Biti, argue that there haven’t been any reforms, and allege that Zanu-PF continues to use the national broadcaster and state-controlled newspapers as propaganda tools. The Harare-based Herald newspaper, controlled by the government, described the MDC visit to the U.K. this week as “sinister.”

Elections in Zimbabwe must take place by Aug. 22, but a date hasn’t been set. Chamisa will run as the candidate of the MDC, which has formed an alliance with six opposition parties, after he was elected to replace Zimbabwe’s main opposition figure and MDC founder, Morgan Tsvangirai, who died of cancer in February.

Chamisa reiterated the coalition’s call for a number of reforms to allow for a credible vote, including the publication of the voters’ roll, and said the party would stage protests to demand its release. While Tsvangirai served as prime minister in a unity government with Zanu-PF in 2009, Chamisa said he won’t consider a power-sharing deal after the elections.

The southern African nation hasn’t had a peaceful political transition since white-minority rule ended in 1980, and all the votes held since 2000 that handed victory to Mugabe were marred by violence and allegations of rigging.

The MDC will review state business deals and introduce a new currency if it wins the election, Chamisa said.

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