Mugabe sworn in after 'phony, brutal' poll

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was sworn in on Sunday after being declared overwhelming winner of an election which observers said was scarred by violence and intimidation.

Mugabe was the only candidate and went ahead with the vote despite a wave of international censure. The United States, which says it is preparing new sanctions, called on Sunday for strong international action. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew a week ago saying a systematic campaign of violence, which killed nearly 90 of his followers, had made a free and fair vote impossible.

The electoral commission said Mugabe won 85,51% of the vote. He had 43,2% in elections in March which Tsvangirai won with 47,9%—short of the absolute majority needed for a first-round victory.

The commission said turnout was 42,37%, almost exactly the same as in March. Human rights groups and witnesses accused pro-Mugabe militias of forcing people to vote in some areas.

Pan-African Parliament observers, one of the few groups able to monitor the ballot, said it was so flawed it should be re-run.

“These elections were not free and fair,” said Marwick Khumalo, head of the observer team.

He said monitors had recorded violence and intimidation across the country, including abductions and assaults which had led to some deaths. The observers said turnout was low.

The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) observer mission also said on Sunday the poll had been marred by pre-election violence and did not reflect the will of the country’s people, dealing a serious blow to Mugabe’s legitimacy.

SADC, which has stood by the veteran leader in the past, said the vote did not conform to regional election guidelines, despite voting on election day being peaceful.

“Based on the above-mentioned observation, the mission is of the view that the prevailing environment impinged on the credibility of the electoral process,” according to a statement by SADC seen by Reuters on Sunday.

“The elections did not represent the will of the people of Zimbabwe.”

The electoral commission released Friday’s results in under 48 hours, compared to five weeks for the March poll.

Mugabe (84), and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, was quickly sworn in for a new five-year term in a ceremony on the lawns of state house, with a military band, marching honour guard and judges in red robes and white wigs.

Security chiefs
Security chiefs, key backers of the former guerrilla commander, queued up to swear allegiance.

In his inaugural speech, Mugabe said: “Once again we have shamed all our detractors.”

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Tsvangirai rejected Mugabe’s invitation to attend the swearing-in and dismissed it as meaningless.

“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,” he said.

Tsvangirai added he would ask African Union (AU) leaders meeting in Egypt on Monday not to recognise the re-election.

Mugabe says he will confront his African critics at the meeting and the quick inauguration enables him to attend with a new five-year mandate.

Mugabe is under pressure from within Africa to enter talks with Tsvangirai to end his country’s deep crisis, which has ruined a once-prosperous economy with hyperinflation and sent millions of refugees fleeing into neighbouring states.

In an apparent response to that pressure, he said in his inaugural speech that he was committed to dialogue with the MDC.

Tsvangirai said the opposition was also committed to AU-sponsored talks, although no negotiations had started.

The AU seems reluctant to back Western calls for sanctions, favouring instead a Kenya-style power-sharing transition.

The Egypt summit may be split between critics of Mugabe, like Kenya, and opponents of any action against him led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been widely criticised for taking a soft line with his neighbour.

Mugabe paid tribute to Mbeki, describing him as a statesman. “Zimbabwe is indebted to his untiring efforts to promote harmony and peace,” he said. Mbeki has tried to mediate an end to the crisis since last year.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, a fierce critic of Mugabe and Mbeki, said in a statement that the AU must refuse to recognise the Zimbabwean leader, who had won a “farcical” election by intimidation, violence and murder.

Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga was quoted as saying on Sunday that the AU should deploy troops. “What is happening in Zimbabwe is a shame and an embarrassment to Africa in the eyes of the international community and should be denounced.”

But AU security chief Ramtane Lamamra played down the prospects of peacekeepers being sent.

Political analyst Allister Sparks said Mbeki had lost credibility as a mediator and Mugabe’s victory would send a new influx of refugees into neighbouring countries.

“I would hope that no civilised country in the world would recognise it [the election]. It’s been a phony election and a brutal election,” he said. - Reuters

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