Zimbabwe awaited a key court ruling on Tuesday, which could order an end to the 10-day wait for presidential election results as pressure on veteran leader Robert Mugabe mounts both at home and abroad.
The High Court was due to rule on a petition by the opposition demanding the electoral commission immediately declare the outcome of the March 29 polls, in which Mugabe sought to extend his 28-year rule.
Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party has already called for a complete recount of the poll, even before the release of results, and authorities have arrested seven election officials for allegedly under-counting votes cast for the president.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the 56-year-old opposition leader, maintains he secured enough votes to avoid a run-off and has accused Zanu-PF of gearing up for a “war” against the Zimbabwean people.
Tsvangirai visited South Africa on Monday on his first trip abroad since the March 29 polls. He met there with Jacob Zuma, who was elected head of the ruling African National Congress in December and is likely to be the next South African president.
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) seized parliamentary control from Zanu-PF for the first time in simultaneous legislative elections, but Mugabe’s ruling party is contesting enough seats to reverse that result.
All eyes will therefore be on Justice Tendai Uchena, who has promised to rule on Tuesday on the opposition bid to force the electoral commission to immediately release the presidential results.
Uchena announced on Monday that contrary to the assertions of the commission, whose leaders are appointed by Mugabe, his court did have jurisdiction to hear the case. The hearing is due to start at 10am GMT.
Mugabe is under enormous international pressure to allow the release of the results after a flurry of statements on Monday from the European Union, the White House, the United States State Department and the United Nations.
State media reported on the weekend that the ruling party had snubbed an approach from the MDC to form a unity government and was now demanding a complete recount of the presidential vote after detecting irregularities.
This was met with scorn in Washington.
“It’s overdue that the election results be announced,” US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters.
“It’s interesting that they haven’t had the official election results announced, yet there is a call for a recount. I’m not sure of the logic train there,” McCormack said.
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, has sought to stoke racial tensions and discredit the opposition as Western puppets who would reverse his land reforms.
“Land must remain in our hands. The land is ours, it must not be allowed to slip back into the hands of whites,” Mugabe was quoted as saying by the state daily Herald on Monday.
The Commercial Farmers’ Union, which represents white farmers in Zimbabwe, said Mugabe supporters had moved on to at least 30 white-owned properties and accused the president of orchestrating the campaign.
The farm invasions by the so-called war veterans serve as a reminder of the violence that followed Mugabe’s last electoral reverse, when he lost a referendum on presidential powers in 2000.
The-then occupation of about 4Â 000 farms came after he was defeated in a constitutional referendum aimed at broadening his powers and facilitating land seizures.
Critics blame Mugabe’s land-reform programme, which was intensified after he lost the referendum in 2000, for Zimbabwe’s meltdown from regional breadbasket to economic basket case.
However, there are signs of a split emerging in the ranks of the war veterans, with one faction urging Mugabe to accept defeat.
“He [Mugabe] should do the honourable thing and eat humble pie and leave the people of Zimbabwe in peace,” Wilfred Mhanda, a senior official of the Zimbabwe Liberation Veterans’ Forum, said in a statement on Monday.
“The failure by the Zanu-PF party and government to accept and admit defeat in the election is a flagrant flouting and violation of the popular will of the Zimbabwean electorate.” — AFP