Mugabe wins as tension hangs over Zimbabwe
Defeated Tsvangirai plans legal challenge, as riot police prepare for possible unrest.
For supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai - who say that the majority of Zimbabweans preferred their candidate - yesterday's declaration of victory by incumbent President Robert Mugabe can mean only one thing: the election was stolen.Skip to next paragraph
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Their conclusion is buttressed by the US, Britain, and several independent-observer groups who strongly condemn the election process, though the influential South African mission says the results are "satisfactory," but wouldn't call them "free and fair."
This leaves Zimbabwe on edge, with riot police moving through the capital yesterday, and bands of Mugabe supporters gathering last night. The results also leave Mr. Tsvangirai and his followers at a strategic and historic crossroad: How to keep the moral high ground and avoid a violent showdown, while challenging the results? "We are determined to redirect our destiny," says Wilfred Mhanda, an opposition-party activist.
The final tally gave Mr. Mugabe 56.2 percent of the nearly 3 mil-lion votes cast, to Tsvangarai's 41.9 percent.
"We do not accept the results," Tsvangarai said plainly at a press conference yesterday.
This, observers say, leaves the MDC with two options: a legal challenge or civil disobedience. But neither is viewed as viable. The courts are stacked with pro-Mugabe appointees, and strikes by citizens could lead to unrest and government retribution.
Tsvangirai says the MDC is not interested in any violent confrontation, but has not ruled out anything. "The people have been cheated," he says. "They will decide what to do."
For more than a year, the Supreme Court has overturned or blocked almost every high-court ruling in favor of the MDC. On the rare occasion that the Supreme Court has sided with the MDC, Mugabe has ignored the decision, overruling it with a presidential decree. Nonetheless, they intend to go through the motions. "We are a constitutional party, and we will seek remedies through constitutional means," Tsvangirai says.
Yesterday, Crisis in Zimbabwe, a network of some 200 civil-society organizations, representing political, legal, and human-rights groups, said that citizens do indeed have legal recourse, and it urged them to act.
"We call upon Zimbabweans to register their concern in accordance with the Constitution starting this Friday," the committee says. According to the Constitution, Zimbabweans have the right to assemble and demonstrate.
This call flies in the face of harsh new security laws passed earlier this year. The laws make any mass action aimed at "coercing" the government an act of treason, punishable by life in prison. Calling any sort of strike could give the government immediate grounds for wholesale arrests of opposition and civil society leaders, several of whom are already facing treason charges.
"Politically, the MDC has to be seen to be doing things within in the law," says Brian Kogoro, director of Crisis in Zimbabwe. "I don't think it will be of any use, but it has to be done."
Mr. Kogoro says that a legal challenge might focus on the disparity between the number of voters who went into the voting booths and the number of votes ultimately counted.