April 17, 2008

Mugabe turns to force to reverse poll defeat, media reports tell

President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF are plotting to retain power through a combination of force and official challenges designed to frustrate the opposition and drain their resources, says the South African newspaper the Business Day.

The government has stepped up the deployment of army, police and intelligence units countrywide to campaign for Mugabe in an upcoming runoff poll after he failed to win presidential elections - despite of the fact that the poll results have not been officially announced, and that a date for the runoff has not been set, the report goes.

An increased military presence has been noted and there are fears that Mugabe will use troops to bolster his campaign. Security forces have already arrested dozens of opposition supporters, and MDC officials said they were concerned violent incidents would increase. Sources said that ZANU-PF was consolidating its resources to regain a majority in parliament and then win the presidential election via a runoff or re-run. The strategy includes delaying results to buy time; a runoff poll and coercion to force voters to again vote for Mugabe.

Sources said Mugabe's close ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, had recently met allies in Johannesburg to discuss fundraising. They said Mugabe wanted the March 29 presidential poll results withheld while the party regrouped. They also hoped that the disputed recount of votes in 23 constituencies would lead to the party regaining a marginal majority in the house of assembly. Zanu (PF) won 97 seats while the combined opposition won 110. Three seats are vacant because the elections were postponed after candidates died before the polls. Out of 23 recounts, Zanu (PF) needs at least 14 seats to keep control of parliament. The MDC launched a counterattack by challenging the results in 60 constituencies.

It is believed Zanu (PF) party officials have been dispatched to approach fired or suspended members to campaign for Mugabe. Many, including expelled former information minister Jonathan Moyo, have apparently refused. (Business Day, Johannesburg)

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