6. April 2008

Stalemate deepens after elections

Zimbabwe sunk deeper into political stalemate on Sunday, with the opposition going to court to get election results released and President Robert Mugabe's ruling party asking for a delay and recount.

Tensions between the two sides have risen sharply since the elections last weekend, fuelled by opposition suspicions Mugabe's Zanu-PF is preparing to rig the outcome of the hotly contested March 29 presidential poll.

The stakes were raised on Saturday when Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), declared victory over Mugabe in the presidential race and accused the veteran 84-year-old leader of "preparing a war on the people".

Mugabe's supporters struck back hours later when state media reported that Zanu-PF had asked election officials to defer the release of the presidential poll results and conduct a recount and audit of all materials, including ballots, used in it. The ruling party cited "revelations of errors and miscalculations" as the basis for its request, according to a report in the state-run Sunday Mail.

The High Court in Harare is scheduled on Sunday to hear Tsvangirai's application to have the results issued immediately, His MDC supporters say they will show the former union leader won an absolute majority of the votes. Independent observers, however, say the MDC leader outpolled Mugabe but did not win enough votes to avoid a run-off.

Top Zanu-PF officials have endorsed Mugabe for the second ballot, putting to rest speculation that they might ask him to concede defeat. The MDC, however, dismissed demands for a vote recount. "It is illegal, it is impractical to demand a recount," the MDC's chief spokesperson, Nelson Chamisa, said.

"A recount is only asked for 48 hours after the counting and as far as we are concerned counting was done [last] Sunday and they should have asked for a recount on Tuesday," said Chamisa. "It's a recount which is not even legal. We cannot allow Zanu-PF to take the law into their own hands. They are testing people's patience." "Is it not ridiculous that they are asking for a recount of results not yet announced? It betrays their mischief, it betrays their shenanigans.

"Clearly they are tampering with ballot boxes," Chamisa declared, adding the MDC had evidence that the ballot boxes and result forms signed by the contesting parties' election agents were being fiddled with.

"We have evidence that certain ... individuals at the PGHQ [police headquarters] and some buildings in town have been busy for the past five days trying to expertly open the ballot boxes and refill them. "And that is why they are asking for a recount. They know a recount will produce a fictitious and fallacious result in favour of Mugabe. War veterans Meanwhile, a group of pro-Mugabe liberation war fighters have also vowed to back him in his bid to stay in power.

Zimbabwe state radio reported on Saturday that the war veterans had threatened to occupy all white-owned farms in Masvingo Province amid reports that white farmers were returning to land seized by the government after 2000.

It was also reported by state media that supporters of Mugabe on Saturday seized one of Zimbabwe's few remaining white-owned farms. The re-emergence of the war veterans, who led a wave of violent occupations of white farms as part of the government land-redistribution programme, raised fears Mugabe's supporters would try to intimidate opponents ahead of the run-off.

It is not clear when the next vote would occur. Zimbabwean law requires that the run-off be held within three weeks, but the Zanu-PF has hinted that the timing might be changed.

The ruling party also plans to challenge some of the results of the parliamentary election, which showed it lost control of the lower house. Results from the upper chamber have Mugabe's party winning half of the contested seats.

In a separate article, the Sunday Mail said Zanu-PF had rejected an opposition offer to form a unity government. "Approaches were made by MDC-Tsvangirai to form a government of national unity. Although it is unclear in what capacity the emissaries came, Zanu-PF rejected the approaches, and this was communicated to the MDC," it said, quoting Zanu-PF member and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

Former colonial ruler Britain and the United States, both of whom have applied sanctions on Mugabe and his top officials, have criticised the election delay and suggested it could be the precursor to a rigged result.

Mugabe's government is widely accused in the West of stealing previous presidential and parliamentary elections, and his removal is seen by Washington and London as necessary to rebuilding Zimbabwe's shattered economy.

Zimbabweans are struggling with inflation of more than 100 000% -- the highest in the world -- mass unemployment and chronic shortages of meat, bread, fuel and other basic necessities. (Mail&Guardian, Johannesburg)


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