The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said Wednesday that the release of results from the country's disputed March 29 presidential election could precipitate dangerous tensions. This comes as international calls for the release of the results broadened amid growing concerns that President Robert Mugabe is trying to delay the result announcement to give him time to prepare for a probable runoff against top opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Lawyers for the ZEC hinted at escalating violence in the conflict-torn state, where a week's delay in critical election results has led to widespread fears of clashes between opposition and government supporters, reports Reuters. International human rights activists say Zimbabwe's recent history of political violence has been fostered by militias backed by Mr. Mugabe, a charge the government denies.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF party apparently lost control of Parliament, according to results released April 3. But Mugabe is disputing the results, and some electoral officials have been arrested.
Opposition figures have warned that government-backed militias are campaigning to intimidate voters with violence ahead of a possible run-off election, the Los Angeles Times reports, and on April 4, one opposition leader said Mugabe had been "preparing a war against the people," reported The Christian Science Monitor.
International calls for the release of delayed results from the vote also increased on Wednesday. The United Nations, European Union, Australia, and Jacob Zuma, the leader of South Africa's ruling party, all issued calls for the release of election results, Reuters reports.
Tendai Biti, spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party, said more violence in the conflict-torn state was imminent unless two regional groups – the African Union and the Southern African Development Community – intervened.
The opposition has called on a High Court judge to speed up publication of the results. A Zimbabwe court began a second day of hearings on the polls on Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported, spurring opposition hopes of a release of the results. Justice Tendai Ucheni could, however, go on hearing the case for days.
Last week, official parliamentary results released by the ZEC appeared to confirm the end of Mugabe's 28-year rule. He's widely considered responsible for the collapse of Zimbabwe's once-prosperous economy and has been widely accused of human rights abuses, reported the Associated Press. Official results showed that the MDC won 105 seats compared with Mugabe's 93 seats in the 210-seat Parliament.
The MDC also announced last week that Mr. Tsvangirai won 50.3 percent of the presidential vote compared with 43.8 percent for Mugabe.
Zimbabwe's ruling party, the ZANU-PF, however, appears to be disputing the results. At least seven officials from the electoral commission have been arrested for manipulating the results in favor of the opposition, the AllAfrica.com website reports.
The ZANU-PF has also called for a total recount of the votes. The signs from Mugabe contradict international reports from a week ago indicating that the long-time ruler of Zimbabwe was preparing to stand down, Australia's state-supported SBS news reports.
Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the international community would have to place increasing pressure on Mugabe.
Zimbabwe's state-sponsored Herald newspaper claimed Tsvangirai had pleaded with the ruling ZANU-PF party to appoint him in a new government, claiming he "begs for Vice President post." The Herald also claimed that former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was trying to contact Zimbabwean authorities about a power-sharing deal.
There have also been reports of invasions of white-owned farms, according to the Commercial Farmers' Union President Trevor Gifford. Mr. Gifford told the BBC that some 60 farmers had fled their homes in fear of attack by mobs. The MDC also says 80 Zimbabwean opposition activists have been attacked by government-backed militias in recent days.