/ 15 May 2008

Zim opposition furious at run-off delay

Zimbabwe’s opposition reacted furiously on Thursday to the prospect of a run-off poll being delayed until the end of July, accusing authorities of flouting the law to help President Robert Mugabe cling to power.

As the government confirmed the second round of a presidential election would not take place next week as scheduled, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) feared the delay would be used to intensify a campaign of violence and intimidation after Mugabe’s first-round defeat.

Under the terms of the electoral law, the run-off between MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe should take place within three weeks of the announcement of results from the first round, which came on May 2.

However, according to an extraordinary government gazette due to be published on Thursday but read out to Agence France-Presse by a source close to the printers, the period has been extended from 21 days to 90 days.

The move means the run-off can now take place as late as July 31 rather than by the scheduled May 23 deadline.

The MDC’s deputy secretary for legal affairs, Jessie Majome, said the extension was a ploy to perpetuate Mugabe’s 28-year stay in power.

“This is rigging taking place and it’s blatantly unlawful,” Majome said.

“All these are tricks being used by Zanu-PF to hold on to power and continue what they are doing in their offices, and whatever they are doing they are up to no good.

“Zanu-PF will use the 90 days to maim and kill and this extension is an extension of the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe.”

The MDC says at least 32 of its supporters have been killed by Mugabe followers since the first round took place on March 29.

‘There is no legal remedy’

While the elections themselves passed off peacefully, there has since been a steady rise in the levels of violence, which the United Nations warned this week could reach crisis proportions.

Much of the violence has been in the countryside, a traditional stronghold for Mugabe but where he did worse than expected on March 29, and the MDC fears voters will be too scared to cast their ballot in the event of a lengthy delay.

Tsvangirai, who beat Mugabe in the first round but fell just short of an overall majority, said last weekend any election held after May 23 would be illegitimate.

However, one of Mugabe’s senior lieutenants said that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) — whose leadership is appointed by the president — was acting within its rights by pushing back the run-off.

“It is lawful and the ZEC has the authority to extend any period of an election in terms of the law and not what is being claimed by the MDC,” Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa was quoted as saying by the state-run Herald newspaper.

Lovemore Madhuku, a leading constitutional lawyer, said the delay had no legal basis but the opposition could do little about it.

“It’s unlawful, it’s very unlawful … but there is no legal remedy,” he said.

“If you take them to court, the court will likely take 90 days to determine the matter.”

The commission took nearly five weeks to announce the results of the presidential election, held on the same day as parliamentary polls in which the MDC wrested control of the House of Assembly from the ruling Zanu-PF for the first time.

The 84-year-old Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980.

Seen as a post-colonial success story in the first decade-and-a-half after independence, Zimbabwe’s economy has been in freefall since Mugabe embarked on a land-reform programme, which saw thousands of white-owned farms expropriated.

Eighty percent of the workforce is unemployed while the official inflation rate is 165 000% — the highest in the world.

The extent of the chaos was underlined on Thursday with the introduction of a new Z$500-million banknote in a bid to tackle cash shortages. — AFP