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Zimbabwe in the balance

10 April 2008

The concerns are many in Zimbabwe nearly two weeks after the 29 March elections. Official results of the presidential vote have still not been released and fears have been mounting that the government of President Robert Mugabe was resorting to political violence to retain power.

The results of the parliamentary elections were released within days of the voting and showed Mugabe’s ruling party, the ZANU-PF, losing control of the parliament. The principal opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) soon after said that its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had defeated Mugabe in the presidential balloting by taking, according to the MDC’s count, more than the necessary fifty percent of the vote. The ZANU-PF disputed that, while the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has yet to come forward with the actual results.

With the standoff continuing, there have been ominous indications of an increasingly violent crackdown against political opponents of President Mugabe, including reports of opposition activists being arrested and threatened. There have also been troubling reports of local electoral officials being arrested for allegedly falsifying votes in favour of the opposition.

The concern was that the Mugabe government was trying to unduly influence those counting the votes, while at the same time the slowing down of the process would allow more opportunities to intimidate opposition supporters in the event of a presidential run-off election. A second round of presidential voting would be necessary if no candidate secured a simple majority in the first round. However, the longer the delay in releasing the results, the greater the chances seemed to be for a further escalation in violence.

Calls for a quick release of the presidential results have been numerous and have come from countries in Africa and around the world. With the threat that the situation in Zimbabwe could veer out of control, the Southern African Development Community, the fourteen-nation regional organisation that includes Zimbabwe, announced that it would hold an extraordinary summit meeting on Saturday, 12 April, to specially address this issue. We hope that this regional effort, with the support of the international community, can secure a positive outcome to the unacceptable electoral standstill in Zimbabwe, so that its citizens will be able to effectively address, in a peaceful and democratic way, the devastating economic and social problems that are afflicting their country.



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