Zimbabwe’s post-election crisis intensified on Monday after a high court judge threw out an opposition demand for the immediate release of results from the March 29 presidential polls.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) reacted angrily to the ruling, urging Zimbabweans to show their disgust at the continuing hold-up by launching a general strike from Tuesday until the result is released.
“We have called for a mass stay-in, starting tomorrow [Tuesday], until the results are released,” the party’s vice-president, Thokhozani Khupe, told reporters.
Zimbabwe police, however, pledged to deal severely with any unrest during the general strike called by the opposition, announcing extra officers and soldiers were deploying across the country.
“As everyone is aware, the past stayaways have been characterised by random destruction of property and threats to life,” said police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena.
“Those who breach the peace will be dealt with severely and firmly.”
Dozens of riot police hovered outside the court room as Justice Tendai Uchena delivered his ruling, rejecting an MDC petition calling for the Zimbabwe electoral commission to immediately declare the result.
“The matter has been dismissed with costs,” Uchena said.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has already claimed outright victory over President Robert Mugabe in the poll and the party said it was now calling on the public to speak up against the commission.
“What we want is for the ZEC [Zimbabwe Electoral Commission] to announce the results. We hope every Zimbabwean takes it upon themselves to speak out and be heard. Voting alone was not enough. We want our results, the time has come,” said Khupe.
The ruling was welcomed by Mugabe’s camp with his Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, saying it would have made no sense to order the ZEC to release the results before they were ready.
“We are not surprised that the court has dismissed the application. We knew from the outset that the application by the MDC had no merit,” he told reporters.
“How can you force the electoral commission to release results when it is not ready?”
The ruling is a double blow to the opposition after a summit of Southern African leaders in Zambia at the weekend merely called for the results to be announced “expeditiously”, saying the matter should be decided by the courts.
The impact of any general strike is likely to be muted as unemployment is already running at more than 80%.
Previous stayaways called by the opposition and its allies in the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions have flopped with few of the people still in work wanting to risk a day’s pay.
However, the opposition is aware that Mugabe still exerts an iron grip over the security forces and is wary of sending its supporters on to the streets to protest the current impasse. Police have anyway banned all political rallies.
Flyers handed out since the MDC first threatened on Friday to stage the general strike have called on everyone from bus drivers to street vendors to join in.
“The power is in our hands. Zimbabweans have been taken for granted for too long. We demand that the presidential election results be announced now.”
At Saturday’s emergency summit in Lusaka, regional leaders discussed the post-election impasse long into the night, but they stopped short of criticising the Zimbabwean government or Mugabe, who was not even mentioned in a four-page joint statement.
Regional leaders have been chided for their traditional reluctance to speak out against 84-year-old Mugabe, seen by many as an elder statesman who still deserves respect for his role in winning Zimbabwe’s independence.
Tsvangirai, still trying to drum up regional support to keep the pressure on Mugabe, was in Zimbabwe’s eastern neighbour, Mozambique, on Monday. Sources said that he was to meet with Mozambican opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama.
No meetings, however, had so far been held with President Armando Guebuza.
About three million Zimbabweans have fled to neighbouring countries in the wake of the country’s economic collapse under Mugabe who has ruled uninterrupted since independence from Britain in 1980.
A one-time regional model, Zimbabwe is now groaning under the impact of the world’s highest rate of inflation which is well into six figures. — AFP