/ 12 May 2008

Mbeki ‘ignored judges’ on Zim’s 2002 poll

President Thabo Mbeki’s role as a mediator in the Zimbabwean crisis took another knock after disclosures that he ignored the advice of two judges he commissioned to observe that country’s 2002 general elections, Business Day reported on Monday.

Mbeki commissioned judges Sisi Khampepe and Dikgang Moseneke to observe the controversial Zimbabwean election in 2002 — which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) still claims was rigged.

On their return, the judges wrote a scathing report on the conduct of the election and submitted it to Mbeki.

This was despite the ruling African National Congress, the government and the Southern African Development Community giving a thumbs up, saying the election result ”represented the will of the Zimbabwean people”.

Their report detailed the constitutional changes made by President Robert Mugabe before the presidential election to give him sweeping powers to amend electoral laws. It also said the failure of that country’s legal system to permit a valid challenge to the results undermined these efforts.

The shortcomings in the 2002 election that returned Mugabe to power included a failure to properly constitute the Electoral Supervisory Commission; a change in the Electoral Act to give Mugabe, rather than Parliament, the authority to alter electoral law; and the change of wording in the Electoral Act to stymie challenges to election findings.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai attempted to nullify the changes that Mugabe had made to section 158 of the Electoral Act but the challenge was thrown out by Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court a month after the election.

Matthew Walton, a lawyer acting for the MDC in SA, approached the local courts demanding the report’s release.

But the MDC later said it had stopped the court action, out of respect for the South African government’s right to keep certain matters private.

Neither Moseneke, now SA’s deputy chief justice, nor Khampepe could be reached for comment.

Walton said he had written to Mbeki to request the report, but the president’s legal adviser had replied that it was never intended for publication and could not be released as it dealt with relations between heads of state — exempting it from SA’s Promotion of Access to Information Act.

Tsvangirai plans return to Zimbabwe

Tsvangirai is expected to return to Harare on Monday to contest a run-off election amid mounting criticism of his decision to flee the beleaguered country while thousands of his supporters were being attacked and some killed.

Tsvangirai has chosen to contend the second round of elections after previously saying he would not run again because he won the first vote outright.

Tsvangirai said Zimbabweans would feel betrayed if he did not run and allowed Mugabe to become president again by default.

”I shall return to Zimbabwe to begin a victory tour. Some might say this term ‘victory’ is cold and callous, given the hardships endured by the people. But the people are victorious and they are being punished for their victory,” he said in Johannesburg, where he has spent much of the past six weeks. ”We must free ourselves from those who would steal victory from fellow brothers and sisters by using guns, sticks and screwdrivers,”

Tsvangirai made a number of demands that are unlikely to be met, including that the ballot be held within the next fortnight. The government has said it could take months.

The MDC leader has switched his position several times on the issue of a second round, after claiming victory against Mugabe in the March 29 vote with 50,3% of the vote. The state-run election commission declared Tsvangirai the winner with about 48% of the vote, to 43% for Mugabe, making a run-off necessary as neither won an outright majority.

Tsvangirai said his party had a difficult decision to make over whether to participate, given what it says was the rigging of the first round and the continuing violence against opposition supporters.

He said the MDC feared he could lose because the ruling Zanu-PF’s attacks on his supporters — which have left more than 30 dead and thousands injured — would prevent large numbers of people from voting and discourage many others.

The MDC appears to have finally decided that it could not walk away from the contest, not least because it would make it appear Tsvangirai was shying away from a one-on-one battle with Mugabe.

”A run-off election could be the knockout round in a fight to liberate ourselves from our former liberator,” Tsvangirai said.

His absence has come under criticism from some of his supporters. The Zimbabwe Independent, a fierce critic of Mugabe, joined the call for Tsvangirai to return. ”He is needed here. His supporters are taking a beating from the thugs who have been unleashed across the country,” the newspaper said. ”It is time for him to identify with their suffering and give a lead to his followers. He has been the victim of poor advice on staying outside the country. This is our next president.” – guardian.co.uk Â