/ 29 June 2008

Mugabe declared winner in sham poll

Zimbabwe’s leader Robert Mugabe won Friday’s presidential election, in which he was the only candidate, with 85,51% of the vote, the electoral commission said on Sunday.

Official figures from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission show Mugabe with 2 150 269 votes compared to 233 000 for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who withdrew from the election a week ago. There were 131 481 spoilt ballots.

In disputed March 29 elections won by Tsvangirai, the opposition leader received 47,9% of votes and Mugabe 43,2%.

The electoral commission said the turnout was 42,37%, almost exactly the same as a March 29 election won by Tsvangirai. The commission had said Tsvangirai fell short of the majority needed for a first-round victory.

The commission released the result of Friday’s vote in less than 48 hours, compared to five weeks for the March poll.

Five years
”I therefore declare Robert Gabriel Mugabe to be the duly elected president of the Republic of Zimbabwe,” said chief elections officer Lovemore Sekeramai.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, was due to be sworn in for a new five-year term shortly in a ceremony at State House.

Tsvangirai dismissed the inauguration as meaningless.

Mugabe (84) said earlier he had won a ”sweeping victory” but voting figures were not immediately available.

Tsvangirai, who rejected Mugabe’s invitation to attend the swearing-in, said he would ask African Union leaders meeting in Egypt on Monday not to recognise the re-election. Mugabe is due to attend the AU meeting.

Mugabe spokesperson George Charamba said the invitation was ”done in the spirit of the president’s wish to reach out … It is a major step towards political engagement.”

Tsvangirai responded: ”I can’t give support to an exercise I’m totally opposed to … the whole world has condemned it, the Zimbabwean people will not give this exercise legitimacy and support.”

Mugabe is under pressure from within Africa to enter talks with Tsvangirai over the country’s political and economic crisis. He went ahead with the vote despite widespread international dismissal of the election as a sham.

Tsvangirai said the opposition was committed to AU-sponsored talks with Mugabe’s government although no negotiations had started.

Pan-African Parliament observers, one of the few groups able to monitor Friday’s ballot, said the vote was so flawed it should be rerun.

China baulks at embargo
China baulked on Sunday at US calls for a UN arms embargo on Zimbabwe despite an appeal by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for immediate strong international action to end political violence.

Rice and her Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi met in Beijing to discuss US plans to introduce measures this week at the UN Security Council, including both an arms embargo and a travel ban on Mugabe’s regime.

”We believe the situation has deteriorated to a very grave level, but the sham election there is likely to bring only more misery,” Rice told a press conference.

”We believe that it is really now time for the international community to act strongly but we are consulting about what measures might be taken,” she said.

China is one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Russia, the United States, Britain and France.

Rice did not reply when a reporter asked if the US would push for a council vote if China and others failed to back moves for an arms embargo.

Rice also hoped that an African Union meeting in Egypt on Monday would at least issue a ”strong caution” to Mugabe ”not to use violence against his own people”.

Yang, the Chinese Foreign Minister, said: ”The most pressing task now is to stabilise the situation in Zimbabwe.”

Yang expressed the hope that the Zimbabwe government and political opposition will ”engage in a serious dialogue to find a proper solution” to the Mugabe government’s handling of the run-off.

In contrast to strong US emphasis for UN Security Council action, Yang said China hopes that the ”African countries in particular” play a constructive role in resolving the crisis.

US President George Bush said on Saturday he had directed that the sanctions be drawn up by Rice and other US officials against the ”illegitimate” government of Zimbabwe. – Reuters, AFP