Zim counts votes: Opposition to lobby Africa

Votes were being counted on Saturday in Zimbabwe’s single candidate presidential election and state media predicted a landslide victory for President Robert Mugabe despite reports of low turnout in many areas.

The decision to go ahead with the poll after the withdrawal of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai because of violence against his supporters was condemned around the world and the poll was widely dismissed as illegitimate.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously expressed deep regret and said a free and fair vote had been impossible.

First results from Friday’s election were expected from 8am GMT, electoral officials said.

Tsvangirai won the first round on March 29 but pulled out of the run-off and took refuge in the Dutch embassy because of state-backed violence he said had killed almost 90 of his followers. He said millions of people stayed away from polling stations despite systematic intimidation.

Many Western leaders urged the African Union to take action at a summit in Egypt on Monday, saying Mugabe’s 28 years in power had to end because the political turmoil and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe threatened regional security.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said it would lobby African leaders at the summit.

“The summit has to take a firm position on the transition we seek.
It’s now a matter of peace and security. We hope the matter gets the urgent attention it deserves. We should not wait for rivers of blood and the complete breakdown of order,” MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said.

The state-run Herald newspaper said there was a record turnout and the election was peaceful.
“Initial reports from polling stations countrywide indicate that this would be the biggest turnout Zimbabwe has ever had, which is a slap in the face for detractors who claimed this was a ‘Mugabe election’,” said the paper. It gave no turnout figure.

‘Operation Red Finger’
Chamisa said Mugabe’s Zanu-PF planned to continue a violent crackdown to decimate the MDC.

“They stole this election, now they are going to spill more blood. Our hope is that regional and international bodies take decisive action to stop this madness,” he said.

He added that security forces planned to launch “Operation Red Finger” to track down people who abstained. Voters had their little finger dyed with ink.

Tsvangirai said on Friday: “What is happening today is not an election. It is an exercise in mass intimidation with people all over the country being forced to vote.”

The MDC said it extended its parliamentary majority from the first elections in March after Mugabe’s Information Minister, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, lost his seat in one of three parliamentary elections held at the same time as the presidential run-off.

African and local election monitors said there had been a low turnout on Friday.

A witness in Chitungwiza township, south of Harare, said voters were forced to hand the serial number of their ballot paper and their identity details to an official from Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party so he could see how they voted.

The Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition rights group said village heads had “assisted” teachers to vote in some rural areas after forcing them to declare they were illiterate.

The top permanent official of the African Union said there could be no immediate solution to the problem of Zimbabwe.

“I am convinced it will be solved in a credible way.

But please give us time to solve it with our heads of state,” AU commission chairperson Jean Ping said at a foreign ministers’ meeting ahead of Monday’s summit in Sharm el Sheikh.

Some Western diplomats said the Security Council text was far too weak. It was watered down from a much tougher version and was backed by the whole 15-nation council, including South Africa, China and Russia—all of which had been long opposed to any discussion on Zimbabwe.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US was working with other UN members on a resolution to send “a strong message of deterrence” to Mugabe’s government over the violence.

But diplomats at the UN said resistance from South Africa, China and Russia would block any sanctions by the Security Council and they were likely to be imposed soon by the United States, the European Union and other Western governments.

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of former colonial power Britain, said Zimbabwe had reached a new low with the election. “We will work with international partners to find a way to close this sickening chapter that has cost so many lives,” he said.

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu said African countries should declare Mugabe an illegitimate leader and impose a blockade of landlocked Zimbabwe, including a flight ban.

“A government has the obligation to protect its citizens. If it will not protect them ... or it is unable to do so, then the international community knows now that it has an instrument to intervene,” Tutu told Britain’s Channel 4 Television.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has presided over Zimbabwe’s slide into economic chaos with inflation estimated to have hit at least two million percent. He blames Western sanctions.

A loaf of bread costs 150 times more now than during the first round of elections on March 29. - Reuters

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