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04 Apr 2008 17:20
Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party on Friday decided President Robert Mugabe should contest a run-off vote against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai if neither wins a majority in the presidential election.
The party politburo met for about five hours to discuss Mugabe’s next move in facing the greatest crisis of his 28-year rule.
Zanu-PF lost control of Parliament for the first time in elections last Saturday, but no results have so far emerged from the presidential vote, prompting opposition suspicions that Mugabe is trying to engineer a way out of the crisis.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says Tsvangirai won an absolute majority in the presidential vote and should be declared president, ending Mugabe’s long rule since independence in 1980.
Zanu-PF and independent projections show Tsvangirai winning the presidential vote but falling short of the absolute majority needed to avoid a run-off.
Announcing the Zanu-PF decision, party administration secretary Didymus Mutasa said parliamentary votes would be recounted in disputed areas.
Earlier, liberation war veterans—a potent force backing Mugabe—attacked the opposition for claiming victory. “These are all provocations against us freedom fighters,” veterans’ leader Jabulani Sibanda told a press conference.
He said the veterans would repel any attempt by white farmers to reclaim properties seized by Mugabe.
“It now looks like these elections were a way to open up the re-invasion of this country [by the British],” he said.
There is increasing impatience in Zimbabwe at a six-day wait for the results of the presidential election.
The MDC said it would ask the High Court to order the immediate release of the results.
Mugabe faces deep discontent as Zimbabwe suffers the world’s highest inflation rate of more than 100Â 000%, a virtually worthless currency and severe food and fuel shortages.
The statement by veterans of a war against white rule in the 1970s appeared to refer to a report in the state-owned Herald newspaper saying there were reports of white farmers threatening to grab back their land.
Critics say the handing of the farms to inexperienced farmers and Mugabe cronies is a key reason for Zimbabwe’s economic collapse.
Amid rumours that security forces planned to crack down on the opposition, Tsvangirai spokesperson George Sibotshiwe denied the MDC leader had gone into hiding.
“He had a meeting with diplomats today [Friday] and he is in his office.
A run-off should be held on April 19, three weeks after the elections, but civil society groups said Mugabe plans to extend that to 90 days to buy time to regroup.
A statement by civil society organisations in Harare said they had “reliable knowledge” that Mugabe intended to extend the interval before a run-off, “using disputed and autocratic presidential powers”.
The statement, read by human rights lawyer Lovemore Madhuku, expressed “gravest concern at the unacceptable delay in the release of poll results”.
Meanwhile, the EU’s Slovenian presidency on Friday called on Zimbabwe to issue the results of its presidential election “without further delay”.
“The EU welcomes the fact that the results of the parliamentary elections have now been released and calls on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to ensure that the results of the presidential election are issued without further delay,” the EU presidency said in a statement.
The EU presidency, which Slovenia holds for the first half of this year, said the EU was “closely” following the elections in Zimbabwe.
“It welcomes the determination of the Zimbabwean people to exercise their fundamental democratic right to vote in the elections on March 29,” the statement said, also hailing the fact that polling day “proceeded without violence”.
The EU presidency statement made no mention of the two foreign journalists arrested by Harare police on charges of breaching the country’s tough media laws.
However, earlier Friday a spokesperson for the EU Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, voiced concern at the arrests and said it was seeking information on the matter.—Reuters, AFP
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