/ 3 August 2013

UN calls for calm as Zanu-PF surges toward victory

Un Calls For Calm As Zanu Pf Surges Toward Victory

Full results were expected later on Saturday, but Mugabe's Zanu-PF party said it had already won the 140 seats in parliament required to press ahead with controversial amendments to the constitution.

"We have already gone beyond two-thirds. It's a super majority," a top party official told AFP on condition of anonymity. With 186 of 210 constituencies officially counted after Wednesday's disputed poll, Mugabe's party already had a commanding lead, winning 137 seats in parliament. Party spokesman Rugare Gumbo told AFP: "Our opponents don't know what hit them", adding that Mugabe could win "70 to 75%" in the presidential vote.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has described the vote as a "sham" and a "huge fraud" and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) has vowed not to accept the results, sparking fears of a repeat of bloody violence that marked the aftermath of the 2008 election.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged both rivals to send "clear messages of calm" to supporters as tensions mount. Ban hopes that the broadly "calm and peaceful atmosphere" of election day "will prevail during the vote counting and throughout the completion of the electoral process," said his spokesman Martin Nesirky. The influential 15-member southern African bloc SADC also implored "all Zimbabweans to exercise restraint, patience and calm".

All eyes were now on the MDC-T, which is expected to release a statement on Saturday following a two-day meeting. Ahead of that meeting, top MDC-T official Roy Bennett called for a campaign of passive resistance, urging people to "just bring the country to a standstill". Observers appeared divided over the conduct of the poll. The African Union's top poll observer, Olusegun Obasanjo, said shortly after polling stations closed that the election had been "peaceful, orderly, free and fair". The SADC stopped short of declaring it "fair" but said it was "free and peaceful".

"We have said this election is free, indeed very free," said top SADC election observer Bernard Membe. "We did not say it was fair … we didn't want to jump to a conclusion at this point in time." Membe met Mugabe Friday to "wish him good luck as he is preparing himself for the inauguration," he told later told journalists. He said he would try to convince Tsvangirai to concede defeat. SADC negotiated the creation of a power-sharing government in the wake of 2008's bloody poll.

With 600 observers on the ground, its verdict and next steps will be closely watched by western nations barred from monitoring the poll themselves. However, foreign diplomats have privately described the polls as fundamentally flawed and the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network reported up to one million voters were prevented from voting in Tsvangirai strongholds. Ban stressed that "the concerns which have been raised about certain aspects of the electoral process should be pursued through established channels. The most important thing is that the will of the people of Zimbabwe is respected."

Extreme volatility 

Even before the election was officially called for Zanu-PF, Mugabe followers were already planning how to use what could be a crushing parliamentary majority. "The new constitution will need cleaning up," said Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, referring to a text overwhelmingly approved by Zimbabweans in March that introduced term limits and curbed presidential powers. Chinamasa said Mugabe's government would also press on with controversial efforts to bring firms under black ownership.

Investors have expressed fears that may mean rolling back the power-sharing government's efforts to stabilise the economy after crippling hyperinflation and joblessness. "It's back to extreme volatility," Iraj Abedian, thechief executive of Pan African Investments, told AFP from Johannesburg. "We can expect fairly radical positions that will have populist support, but which will have huge implications." Abedian said foreign-owned banks were likely in the firing line for seizures that would, like land and mining grabs, lead to chaos. "The land grabs caused chaos in the agricultural sector and it took ten years for it to settle down. The financial sector would have a similar impact.

It would cause chaos, but Zanu-PF and Mugabe seem to like that," added Abedian. Mugabe, Africa's oldest ruler, is a former guerrilla leader who guided Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 from Britain and white minority rule. But his military-backed rule has been marked by economic meltdown and international diplomatic isolation. Former union boss Tsvangirai won the first round of voting in 2008, but was forced out of the race after 200 of his supporters were killed and thousands more injured in suspected state-backed intimidation and attacks. Some Western analysts said this could be Tsvangirai's last bid at the top job.