Zimbabwe: Hello Robert Mugabe, for five more years

Rivals say President Mugabe forces stole the elections, and are calling for nonviolent protest.

By , Correspondent

If the top brass of Robert Mugabe's political party, the Zanu PF, are correct, Mr. Mugabe will be handed another five-year term of office to add to the 33 he has already spent in power.

That result would quash the hopes, perhaps forever, of Morgan Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist who is on his third challenge to President Mugabe and has endured years of arrest and beatings by the Zimbabwean security forces for his political opposition.

There appear to be few overt clashes on the street. But tension is high over yesterday's vote that one side claims to have been rigged, even as many Zimbabweans today went about their business and seemed steeled for five more years.  

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Didymus Mutasa, a senior Zanu PF official and minister in Mugabe’s cabinet, said his party appeared to have won more than the 71 percent of the parliamentary vote they obtained at Zimbabwean independence three decades ago.

"From what we can tell from on the ground currently, we are definitely doing much better than in 1980," he said. 

He suggested that Mugabe had won big in the presidential poll. "There's no doubt that we are going to do much better than 50-plus-1 [the target for a presidential poll win that avoids a runoff] this time," he said.

Another, unnamed Zanu PF source told Reuters that they had “buried” the Movement for Democratic Change [Tsvangirai's party]. “We never had any doubt that we were going to win," the source said.

Riot police had gathered in Africa Unity Square, close to the MDC headquarters in downtown Harare, yesterday – a flash point for clashes following previous, disputed elections in Zimbabwe.

Despite having been buzzing with excited party supporters wearing red t-shirts in the runup to the poll, the venerable Harvest House was closed yesterday, its metal gates firmly shut, and there was no one to be seen. 

Today, however, some campaign posters bearing Tsvangirai’s photograph and promising “change” had been ripped down and fluttered around on the pavement.

Roy Bennett, an exiled MDC senator, issued a statement calling for a mass campaign of passive resistance. 

“There needs to be resistance against this theft. I'm talking about people completely shutting the country down - don't pay any bills, don't attend work, just bring the country to a standstill,” he said.

The MDC is also thought to be instructing lawyers to ask Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court to declare the elections invalid on the grounds that up to a million people had been denied their vote and opposition parties had been denied their legal right to examine the voters’ roll before polls opened.

Tsvangirai told reporters that delayed reforms to the biased state media and security services had affected the poll, that Zanu PF supporters had been bused to voting places, and that in rural areas many voters were intimidated by traditional chiefs into supporting the party.

“This election has been a huge farce. It is a sham election that does not reflect the will of the people,” he said.

“The shoddy manner in which it has been conducted and the consequent illegitimacy of the result will plunge this country into a serious crisis.” 

However, they may not get the backing from the international community that they have been calling for. America and the European Union were blocked from observing the vote and the task was handed instead to the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Although they have still to reveal their findings, SADC’s technical committee on Thursday praised Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission for conducting a "peaceful, credible and effective" process.

Independent election observers have, however, backed claims by Tsvangirai and his party that the electoral role had been “systematically” tampered with. 

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network sent 7,000 observers around the country and said it was “deeply concerned” about voter violations. Speaking at a press conference in the capital Harare yesterday, its chair Solomon Zwana said it had been much harder to vote in urban areas, where the MDC is strongest, than in rural areas, where Zanu PF holds most sway.

Mr. Zwana said it was not enough for the vote to have been peaceful. "For the election to be credible, they must offer all eligible citizens a reasonable opportunity to register to vote, to inform themselves about the candidates and for the votes to be properly counted," he said. "We are deeply concerned that for urban voters, the first three principles have been violated."

Tiseke Kasambala, from New York-based Human Rights Watch, agreed that there were “major flaws” with the election process.

“We’ve spent weeks investigating the runup to the poll as well as informally watching the voting, and what we saw supports wider concerns raised today by local monitors,” she said. “These flaws and irregularities call into question the credibility and fairness of the election.”

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