MDC to contest run-off against Mugabe

Zimbabwe’s opposition leader said on Saturday he would return home within two days to contest a run-off against President Robert Mugabe and deal him a “final knock-out” after almost three decades in power.

But chances of a speedy end to the political stalemate that has gripped the country since a disputed March 29 election appeared remote after Zimbabwe’s justice minister rejected Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s pre-conditions for taking part in the run-off.

Tsvangirai said he would only participate if international observers and media get full access to ensure the run-off is fair. He said the country’s electoral commission was discredited and should be revamped, and called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to send peacekeepers to instil public confidence in the vote.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa shrugged off the demands.

“The run-off will be held within the framework of the Constitution and the electoral laws. There will be no conditionalities that will be outside this framework,” he said.

After weeks of equivocation, Tsvangirai said he would fight Mugabe in the run-off, even though he believed he won outright in the first round. The MDC accuses the ruling Zanu-PF of vote-rigging by intimidating and attacking voters.

“The MDC ... will contest the run-off. I am ready, and the people are ready for the final round,” Tsvangirai told a news conference in South Africa.

Official results showed Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980, and that Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the presidential poll, but not by enough votes to avoid a run-off. Both the government and opposition have challenged some of the results.

Hopes for change

Zimbabweans have been hoping for an end to the political stalemate that has triggered fears of widespread violence and instability, which could take their toll on the region.

Voters had thought the ballot might help end an economic meltdown that has triggered chronic food and fuel shortages, 80% unemployment, inflation of 165 000% and a flood of millions of refugees to neighbouring countries.

“Legally this election should be no later than May 24 ... and that is the date we are preparing for. If Zanu-PF and the ZEC [Zimbabwe Electoral Commission] hope to retain what little credibility they have left, they will abide by the law and declare the presidential run-off election between today [Saturday] and that date,” Tsvangirai said.

The ZEC will set the date of the run-off. By law, a second round should be held within 21 days of the result, announced on May 2. But the ZEC has the power to extend it, and Tsvangirai’s conditions have added a new variable to the process.

Susan Booysen, an analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand, said allowing in international observers “pulls the rug out from under Zanu-PF, because without those controls they can virtually throw in the towel today”.

Mugabe’s government has barred most international observers from past polls. It has allowed some regional states to monitor past elections and has also invited observers from Russia.

Zimbabwean political commentator Eldred Masunungure said Tsvangirai’s demands made a short time-frame hard.

“Two weeks is a short time for observers to get in and make some effective presence on the ground,” he said.

Analysts say an end of Mugabe’s rule may bring sorely needed international aid, but if the former guerrilla leader stays on, the economic crisis is likely to deepen.

Meanwhile, South African President Thabo Mbeki on Saturday said Zimbabwean people can solve their own problems and the rest of the world should just assist.

“The solutions to the problems of Zimbabwe rest in the hands of Zimbabweans,” said Mbeki in a transcript of an interview he gave with al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar.

The transcript was released by the Presidency on Saturday.

“It’s not South Africa that is going to solve the problems of Zimbabwe or indeed anybody else.”

He said he had sought over many years to say to the people and leaders of Zimbabwe “please get together and identify the problems and say what needs to be done to solve the problems”.

“I am quite convinced that indeed it remains the only correct way to go.”

Mbeki said the task should not be shifted to defining what Zimbabwe should look like to foreigners.—Reuters, Sapa



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