13 March 2002

ZIMBABWE: Mugabe wins

President Robert Mugabe won a new six-year term in Zimbabwe's election, according to official results. Results announced at 10:00 on Wednesday, March 13, by Registrar-General Tobaiwa Mudede showed Mugabe with 1 634 382 votes, well over the 50% of ballots cast that he needed for victory against challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, who had 1 170 590. Mudede said 3.1 million people voted in the southern African country's three-day election, that ended on Monday. The vote was condemned by local and foreign observers and Western countries, who said it was scarred by violence, deeply flawed and unfair. Tsvangirai says Mugabe stole the vote through systematic cheating and there were fears of a violent backlash by opposition supporters. Security forces were put on high alert and police set up roadblocks on the main approach roads to the capital, Harare.

Meanwhile, President Robert Mugabe moved to neutralise the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as results in the presidential election came in last night. The opposition party's secretary-general, Welshman Ncube, was charged with high treason for his part in an alleged assassination plot against Zimbabwe's 78-year-old president. It is expected that other senior MDC figures, including the leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, could also face arrest on similar charges, reducing their ability to mobilise their supporters. In another development, Zimbabwe's police force launched a crackdown on anyone, black or white, in the north of the country who had offered support or assistance to the MDC during the poll. Dozens were arrested and harassed for what Mr Mugabe's supporters described as "despicable acts of political manipulation". Many of those arrested had simply worked as party representatives or polling agents. In Bulawayo, the country's second city and capital of Matabeleland, an MDC stronghold, army units were deployed into the townships of Phumula, Cowdray Park and Nkulumane.

It was believed to be a move to deter public displays of unrest if Mr Mugabe is declared the winner in the election some time today. Mr Mugabe enjoys little popularity in urban areas and, if any popular unrest takes place, it is most likely in crowded townships such as those that surround Bulawayo's western suburbs.

Brian Raftopolous, head of a collection of Church and civic groups known as the Crisis in Zimbabwe Committee said the electoral fraud had been so bad that a Mugabe victory was inevitable. "The election well has been poisoned to such an extent that there is unlikely to be any other result," he said. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a coalition of non-governmental organisations, produced a list of problems related to the election, including flawed voter rolls, intimidation and attacks on voters by police and ruling party militants, and the deployment of voting stations in a way that clearly favoured Mr Mugabe. Reginald Matchaba-Hove, chairman of the network, said: "The election is total confusion and chaos… There is no way these elections can be described as substantially free and fair." Kare Vollan, the head of a 25-strong team of Norwegian monitors, said the elections "were conducted in an environment of strong polarisation, political violence and an election administration with severe shortcomings". The Norwegian report also criticised the administration of the election in Harare as wholly inadequate, and said that thousands of voters had been deprived of their democratic right to vote.

This was denied by Zanu-PF, with Jonathan Moyo, the information minister, claiming: "This has been an exemplary election in our view." Patrick Chinamasa, the justice minister, angrily dismissed allegations of election rigging and said Zimbabweans had voted "freely and fairly and in a peaceful manner". Meanwhile, the MDC tried to put as positive a gloss as possible on the formal charging of Mr Ncube, claiming it indicated that Zanu PF was desperate and in a "state of panic". But there was no denying that it represented a setback for the party and raised the prospect of a blanket crackdown by Mr Mugabe's security forces and police on the entire leadership. As the police turned the screws on white farmers and MDC election agents and support staff, the state-controlled Herald newspaper said in an editorial yesterday: "Whites' actions [are] despicable. White people in Zimbabwe went for broke during the presidential election as they pushed for an unlikely MDC victory." Counting is expected to continue today amid numerous accusations of fraud against the Zanu PF authorities. (ZMNews / News24 [SA], Daily Telegraph [UK]).

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