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In frustration, Zimbabwe opposition drops challenge to Mugabe reelection

Facing doubts of a fair hearing, and difficulties obtaining crucial evidence from authorities, on Friday Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change withdrew it's challenge to President Robert Mugabe's reelection. 

By Gillian GortoraAssociated Press / August 17, 2013

Movement For Democtratic Change (MDC) President Morgan Tsvangirai, at his house in Harare, Saturday. Many Zimbabweans on Saturday reacted with a mixture of despair and resignation to the news that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has withdrawn a court appeal to re-examine the electoral results that gave President Robert Mugabe a landslide victory.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

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Harare, Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change said Friday that it is withdrawing a court challenge over disputed election results that gave long-time President Robert Mugabe a commanding victory, saying it did not believe it would get a fair hearing.

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The party said in a document filed at the Constitutional Court that it will not participate in a hearing scheduled Saturday and asked that the nine judges of the highest court be advised of the withdrawal. Outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is a leader of the opposition group.

By late Friday evening, the MDC had not received another court judgment on its demands for the release of crucial election material by the state Election Commission. It believes the material will help it corroborate claims that up to 1 million eligible voters were kept from voting and that ballots were cast in the names of dead people.

Nelson Chamisa, the fourth-ranking party official, told The Associated Press that it was impossible to proceed with Saturday's hearing without full information and evidence it had sought from election authorities.

"There is no value in us going to the courts without the proof that is beyond doubt," he said.

Attorney Chris Mhike said even if a last minute ruling was made to force the election body to release the material sought, it left no time for an analysis of voting figures. Chamisa said without the proof it sought from the election body, Saturday's challenge would likely be thrown out, undermining the opposition's position.

"We are refusing to give Mugabe legitimacy through his courts," he said.

After violent and disputed elections in 2008, Mugabe was forced by regional leaders to form a shaky power-sharing coalition with Tsvangirai. But the 89-year-old Mugabe was said to have garnered 61 percent of the presidential vote to Tsvangirai's 34 percent in the July 31 election.

The longtime president has traditionally appointed Zimbabwe's judges and has long been accused of packing the judiciary with his sympathizers.

Earlier Friday, MDC party spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said the Constitutional Court, made up of Mugabe's loyalist judges, had barred cross-examination of witnesses that would expose voting irregularities.

Mugabe's party has denied claims of vote rigging. The president said in a national address on Monday the outcome is irreversible and the losers must accept defeat.

But Tsvangirai has described the elections as "a monumental fraud," and Mwonzora said the opposition party was "baffled" by the reluctance of election officials to make available the requested material, even after regional and African mediators said polling day itself was peaceful and fair.

"If the elections were free and fair, why should the officials stop people accessing the material?' he said.

The state Electoral Commission on Aug. 8 admitted to some mistakes in the elections but claimed they were not enough to sway Mugabe's victory. It said nearly 305,000 people were turned away from voting stations and another 207,000 were given assistance by polling officials to cast ballots.

Tsvangirai's party says the figures "are much higher" than those given by the electoral body.

In his original court papers, Tsvangirai said he did not receive voters' lists to check on the accuracy of their contents. Electoral laws require the lists to be distributed to all candidates in a "reasonable period" ahead of voting.

Mwonzora said Friday that the MDC had still not received the full lists to be able to verify allegations that at least 870,000 names were duplicated.

Tsvangirai also said the state electoral body printed an extra 2 million ballot papers based on the grossly inflated and flawed voters' register, far above the norm. The opposition leader said in court submissions due to be heard Saturday that the duplication of names led to multiple voting and ballot papers that could not be accounted for.

"All in all, the huge scale of duplication of names puts into serious doubts the credibility of the voters' roll and the entire electoral process," he said.

A voter registration program for new voters before the election was heavily skewed in favor of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. In one rural Mugabe stronghold, 18 registration teams were deployed compared to five in an urban stronghold of Tsvangirai in Harare that has a larger population than the rural district dominated by Mugabe's party.

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