Zimbabwe was on Saturday facing a protracted battle between the opposition and President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party over the outcome of elections, with results still awaited a week on from the vote.
Mugabe, still to make any public comment since last Saturday’s joint presidential and parliamentary elections, was endorsed by his Zanu-PF party on Friday to stand in a run-off against his opposition rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, if results show neither man won more than 50% in the first round.
The party also announced plans to contest some of the results from the legislative contest, a move which could potentially see Zanu-PF regain control of Parliament from Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The electoral commission has been under mounting pressure to start announcing the results from the presidential election, with the MDC lodging a High Court application on Friday demanding an immediate declaration.
But with the commission still to finish releasing the results from the senate, a largely ceremonial chamber, there is little expectation of a swift breakthrough.
Still absorbing the shock of losing control of Parliament for the first time since independence in 1980, Zanu-PF’s politburo met on Friday in Harare to draw up its strategy after the polls reverse.
In giving Mugabe the green light to contest a second round against Tsvangirai, the party publicly acknowledged that the country’s ruler of 28 years had failed to gain a majority over Tsvangirai in the first round.
“It’s definite there will be a re-run. We are down but not out,” said Zanu-PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa after the meeting.
“Absolutely the candidate will be Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Who else would it be other than our dear old man?” he added.
And in a further sign that the party was in no mood to release its grip on power, Mutasa said the party now wanted a recount in at least 16 of the seats in the 210-seat chamber, potentially enough to overturn its initial defeat.
“This was the worst-run election I have ever experienced,” said Mutasa.
Asked how many seats they would contest, he replied: “Sixteen or more.”
The MDC’s secretary for elections, Ian Makone, responded by saying it was Zanu-PF’s “democratic right” to challenge the results.
The run-off should be held within three week’s of the original polling day but the final decision is likely to be left to the electoral commission.
The MDC, which was declared the winner in 109 parliamentary constituencies — a total which includes members of a splinter faction — has already claimed Tsvangirai won more than 50% in the presidential contest.
But with Mugabe’s former finance minister, Simba Makoni, who stood as an independent, set to back Tsvangirai in a second round, the MDC says it is also ready for a run-off.
The 84-year-old Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, has presided over the former British colony’s demise from regional model to economic basket case during his time in office.
Inflation is officially running at about 100Â 000% but most experts believe the real figure is several times higher.
With an unemployment rate of 80%, about three million of Zimbabwe’s 13-million population have left the country, both to find work and food as even basics such as bread and cooking oil are now hard to come by.
‘No case to answer’
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe police were still holding two foreign journalists late on Friday on charges of operating without accreditation despite an order to release them from the Attorney General’s office, their lawyer said.
“The Attorney General said there was no case to answer and said they should be released,” said lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa.
Mtetwa said police had given differing explanations for why the journalists, including a New York Times correspondent, were still being detained.
She said one police officer told her there were instructions to keep them in custody until Saturday when they were due to be deported.
Another officer said they had been asked to hold them awaiting orders from police chiefs on when to release them.
And yet another officer told her police were keeping them because they were still going through the journalists’ laptop computers to establish if there was anything “subversive” in them.
“So they are staying inside and we don’t know whether they will be released tomorrow [Saturday] or Monday, but they [police] made it very clear that it’s a political decision [to keep them],” she said.
New York Times correspondent Barry Bearak (58) and a 45-year-old journalist from Britain were both detained on Thursday during a raid on a Harare guest house and later charged with breaching the country’s tough media laws.
Police could not be immediately reached, but earlier said the reporters had been trying to cover the country’s general election without authorisation.
Zimbabwean authorities barred most foreign media from covering last Saturday’s general elections and had warned they would deal severely with journalists who sneaked into the country. — AFP