Zim opposition in election run-off debate

Zimbabwe’s opposition on Monday mulled whether to contest a presidential election run-off after winning the first round as veteran leader Robert Mugabe’s camp began gearing up for the ballot.

Sources in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had indicated party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who fell just short of the overall majority needed to topple Mugabe in the first round, would make an announcement on Monday.

However, his spokesperson said there were no plans for Tsvangirai, currently based in South Africa, to declare his intentions as the party had still to make a formal decision.

“We are still putting things together and when we are ready, we will get the press informed,” George Sibotshiwe said.

Tsvangirai has previously said he sees no need for a second round, convinced he won more than 50% in polling on March 29.

However, official results released on Friday, nearly five weeks after polling day, gave him only 47,9% while Mugabe was said to have won 43,2%.

While maintaining the Zimbabwe electoral commission is biased in favour of Mugabe, the MDC is also aware any boycott would hand the 84-year-old—who has ruled the ex-British colony since independence in 1980—another six-year term.

“We are saying as far as we are concerned we won and a run-off is not necessary,” MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said.

“But in the unlikely event that the ZEC [the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission] convinces us that a run-off is necessary, any time, any hour we will beat Mugabe hands down.”

The run-off should in theory be held within three weeks of the declaration of results but the commission has still to set a date.

Its secretary, Dominico Chidhakuza, played down the prospects of an imminent announcement of a date for the run-off, saying the commission had yet to discuss the issue.

“We are yet to meet. I can’t give a date right now because there are issue we are still to discuss,” Chidhakuza said.

Many observers believe that Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party, still reeling from their loss of control in Parliament in simultaneous legislative elections, are playing for time.

Mugabe’s former information minister, Jonathan Moyo, now an independent lawmaker, said the authorities were likely to try to delay any run-off by over a month.

“I suppose they are still trying to come to terms with the fact that they have lost Parliament, and they stand to lose the presidency and they have not yet done enough to avoid that loss,” Moyo said.

“They are mourning, so they want 40 days and 40 nights.”

The MDC’s fear is that Mugabe and his supporters will use the time to scare voters into backing the president.

Growing incidents of violence, which the opposition says has left 20 supporters dead, have led Western governments to demand observers are sent into monitor the second round.

Diplomats in Addis Ababa, headquarters of the African Union, said AU Commission chairperson Jean Ping had travelled to Harare for talks with Mugabe.

However, there was no immediate confirmation of the visit from officials in the Zimbabwean capital.

The Au and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have been under pressure to intervene more forcibly over the Zimbabwe crisis.

Among victims of the violence have been a number of teachers, whose union is now warning of strike action from next week.

“What is happening is that you have systematic targeting of teachers, and as result three-quarters of teachers have not gone back to their places of work” since the school term started a week ago, Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, said.

Mugabe himself has made no comment since the results were announced but his party says he is ready for the run-off.

In an apparent vote-winning exercise, his wife, Grace, took part in a weekend ceremony to donate clothes and blankets to alleged victims of MDC violence at Chiendambuya, about 160km east of the capital.

“Zanu-PF has been voted into power since 1980, if it had wanted to rig elections, it would have done that a long time ago,” she said in a speech.—AFP

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Susan Njanji

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