'Very low' turnout for Mugabe's poll
Many Zimbabweans deliberately defaced their ballots in a discredited presidential run-off with President Robert Mugabe as the sole candidate, and voted only out of fear, the head of a foreign observer mission said on Saturday.
Contrary to the state-run newspaper’s report of a “massive turnout” in Friday’s election, Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African Parliament observer mission, said the turnout was “very, very low”.
He also said many of those who did vote cast their ballots for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who pulled out of the race after an onslaught of state-sponsored violence against his Movement for Democratic Change.
Boycotting the poll and spoiling their votes were brave acts by Zimbabweans following the intense violence the opposition faced in the run-up to the election. The violence was not only widespread, but some of it was particularly brutal in an attempt by Mugabe supporters to spread fear and stymie support for the opposition.
Residents said they were forced to vote by threats of violence or arson from Mugabe supporters who searched for anyone without an ink-stained finger—the telltale sign that they had cast a ballot.
“There was a lot of intimidation for people to vote,” said Khumalo, a lawmaker from Swaziland. “You can tell people just wanted to get the indelible ink to protect themselves from the hooligans.”
Khumalo said he saw many ballot papers that had been defaced, some with slogans saying: “We will not vote,” on them.
“One can believe that it was the same scenario in other areas,” he said.
Friday’s election, which will ensure Mugabe remains in power, was widely condemned by African and other world leaders as a sham.
However, the government mouthpiece Herald, said on Saturday that a massive voter turnout was “a slap in the face for detractors who claimed this was a ‘Mugabe election’ that did not have the blessing of the generality of Zimbabweans”.
Ballot counting continued through the night, and electoral officials collated results on Saturday. It is not clear when results will be released. Earliest announcements could be expected on Saturday, followed by a final tally on Sunday.
Khumalo said the election had been “marred” by a high number of spoiled ballots.
Tsvangirai’s name remained on the ballot because his withdrawal on Sunday came too late to remove it, election officials said.
Khumalo said at one voting station in rural Matabeleland, 36 votes were cast for Mugabe, 17 for Tsvangirai and 31 were spoiled.
In one Harare voting station, 107 votes were cast for Mugabe, 76 for Tsvangirai and 30 were spoiled, he said.
Reporters and independent observers in Harare saw a low turnout in the capital. As polls closed at 7pm on Friday, officials at one Harare station said they had not seen a voter for several hours.
Paramilitary police in riot gear had deployed in a central Harare park, then began patrolling the city. Marshals led some voters to polls, and militant Mugabe supporters roamed the streets, singing revolutionary songs, heckling people and asking why they were not voting.
The United Nations Security Council agreed unanimously on Friday “that the conditions for free and fair elections did not exist and it was a matter of deep regret that elections went ahead”, said US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who is current council president.
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the vote a “sham”, and said the United States was drafting a UN resolution calling for tough action against Zimbabwe’s government to prevent it from further abusing the country’s population.
“It is time for the international community to act,” Rice told reporters on her way to Seoul, South Korea. “It is hard to imagine that anybody could fail to act given what we’re all watching on the ground in Zimbabwe.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Saturday urged African nations to help bring an end to Mugabe’s rule, and called the election a “new low” in Zimbabwe’s affairs. The upcoming African Union summit is “an opportunity for the region to restore hope to the people of Zimbabwe. Democracy will ultimately prevail”, he said in a statement.
The presidents of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, in a rare comment about the affairs of another African country, said Zimbabwe’s one-candidate run-off, “cannot be a solution”, to the country’s political crisis.
The presidents, at a regular summit of the East African Community held in Kigali, Rwanda, urged Mugabe’s and Tsvangirai’s parties “to come together and work out an amicable solution through dialogue in the interest of all Zimbabweans”.
Tsvangirai said he still wanted negotiations about a transitional authority for Zimbabwe but was not sure whether he could talk with Mugabe (84).
Mugabe, who has been president since independence in 1980, offered an olive branch to the opposition on Thursday, saying he was “open to discussion” with them.
Shortly after voting, Mugabe told Southern African Development Community observers he was confident he would be victorious, a spokesperson for the key regional bloc said on Angolan state radio.
Tsvangirai was first in a field of four in the March vote, an embarrassment to Mugabe. The official tally said he did not gain the votes necessary to avoid a run-off against Mugabe. Tsvangirai’s party and its allies also won control of Parliament in March, dislodging Mugabe’s party for the first time since independence in 1980. - Sapa-AP