The opposition claimed victory on Sunday in Zimbabwe’s general election as concerns mounted over a delay to the results of a contest that could see veteran President Robert Mugabe turfed out of office.
Meanwhile, the election was a peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people, a team of observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said in a report.
Angolan Sports Minister Jose Marcos Barrica, the head of the mission from the 14-nation regional bloc, said that observers had some concerns about access to the state media, voter education and comments by security chiefs.
”Notwithstanding the concerns highlighted, the elections have been a peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe,” he told journalists in Harare, reading from the report.
Despite warnings from Mugabe’s camp that pre-emptive declarations were to tantamount to a coup, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said it had secured nearly all parliamentary seats in the two main cities.
However, more than 24 hours after polls had closed, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had yet to release a single result from any of the 9 000 stations where votes were cast on Saturday for the president, lawmakers and councillors.
”The delay in announcing these results is fuelling speculation that there could be something going on,” said Noel Kututwa, the head of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which was an official observer on election day. ”The announcement of results in a timely, transparent and accountable manner helps reduce tensions following any election.”
The MDC said it was not going to wait for an announcement from the ZEC, whose leadership had been appointed by Mugabe. ”This far, short of a miracle, we have won this election beyond any reasonable doubt. We have won this election,” MDC secretary general Tendai Biti told a news conference.
Biti said the party’s assessment was based on unofficial returns posted at polling stations where counting had been completed. Asked why he was not waiting for the commission to announce results, he said: ”We don’t trust the ZEC, which is not independent.”
He added: ”We made a mistake in 2002 by not claiming our victory. We made a mistake in 2005 by not claiming our victory. We will not accept the results of any stolen election as a party.”
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has always insisted he was the rightful winner of the previous presidential election in 2002, while the party also says it was robbed of victory in 2005’s parliamentary elections.
Tsvangirai claimed on Saturday that his party had uncovered evidence of widespread vote-rigging, including the names of a million ”ghost” voters. Also, observers from the Pan African Parliament said in a letter to the electoral commission they had found more than 8 000 non-existent voters registered on empty land in a Harare constituency.
As well as Tsvangirai, Mugabe is up against former finance minister Simba Makoni, who is expected to trail in third.
Biti said the MDC’s own research showed the party had virtually wiped out the ruling Zanu-PF in the capital, Harare, and the southern city of Bulawayo, and that Tsvangirai had a clear lead in the presidential contest. ”In Bulawayo, we have won all the 12 House of Assembly seats and … in Harare we have won 28 out of 29.”
Police arrested 13 MDC activists in Harare on Sunday morning following violent skirmishes that erupted in the St Mary’s constituency after the counting of votes. Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said the clashes had left five people injured.
”Supporters of one of the candidates, Marvelous Khumalo, did their own calculations and concluded that they had won against the other candidate Job Sikhala and started celebrating,” said Bvudzijena. ”As part of the celebrations they made a mock coffin with the words ‘Rest in peace, Jobless’ and went to Sikhala’s house in St Mary’s where they were intercepted by Sikhala’s supporters, resulting in the clashes.”
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba, meanwhile, fired a warning to Tsvangirai, who has twice been charged with treason, against an early victory claim.
”He announces results, declares himself and the MDC winner and then what? Declare himself president of Zimbabwe? It is called a coup d’Ã©tat and we all know how coups are handled,” Charamba told the state-run Sunday Mail.
The electoral commission also criticised the opposition for jumping the gun, but its chairperson had ”no idea” when results would be announced.
Both the Christian Alliance and the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a network of civil society, churches and political parties, have issued statements urging the ZEC to announce the results as a matter of urgency.
The Christian Alliance said in order to avoid any further distress, the ZEC should immediately release the available results. ”Any further delay could lead to unpredictable and undesirable behaviour by citizens as they continue to rely on unofficial results.”
”Continued silence is tantamount to tacit endorsement of such unofficial results,” stated the alliance in a statement read by former Methodist bishop Levy Kadenge.
The Save Zimbabwe campaign said that given the historic nature of the elections, there was no need for the ZEC to keep the people of Zimbabwe in suspense.
SADC report criticised
After determining the 2002 election was rigged, no representatives from European Union countries or the United States have been allowed to oversee the ballot. African countries have largely refrained from speaking out against a man who has ruled his country since independence from Britain in 1980.
Discussing the SADC report on the elections, Angola’s Barrica said though there had been no figures thus far on turnout levels, the mission had been impressed by the number of people who had voted as well as the atmosphere.
”We saw a much better turnout than we ever imagined,” he said. ”People were predicting that there would be violence on polling day, that there would be bloodshed and that no one would go to the polls, but I must say that we all witnessed people going peacefully to vote. There was no violence.”
In the run-up to the poll, the head of the armed forces had said he would not take orders from Western ”puppets”, a clear reference to main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former finance minister Simba Makoni. Both are running against veteran President Robert Mugabe. The head of the prison service also instructed his staff to vote for Mugabe.
While criticising these statements, the SADC team said they were merely the views of individuals. ”Those statements were individual statements. They were not institutional; they were not made in the name of the government.”
However, South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), which had two representatives on the SADC observer mission, said its members had refused to sign the preliminary report. The DA said the SADC report had concluded that ”despite a number of concerns, the elections were a peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe”.
DA parliamentarian and mission member Diane Kohler-Barnard said in a statement: ”It is noteworthy that the words ‘free and fair’ have not been used, which is the only standard with which to judge an election.” She added: ”It is impossible for this deeply flawed electoral process to be viewed as a credible expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe”
The SADC, which critics say has been too soft on Mugabe, has unsuccessfully tried to mediate an end to Zimbabwe’s crisis.
The DA statement said the SADC mission had noted with concern threats by Zimbabwe’s security forces to refuse to accept an opposition victory, the use of state resources for political purposes and the presence of police in polling stations. The DA also said the organisation of the elections was ”chaotic”.
If no candidate wins more than 51% of the vote, the election will go into a second round. — AFP, Reuters, CAJ News