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Mugabe elections ‘compromised’

09 August 2013


Subdued voters: President Robert Mugabe won a further mandate to lead Zimbabwe after elections on 31 July

Subdued voters: President Robert Mugabe won a further mandate to lead Zimbabwe after elections on 31 July

THE absence of bloodshed during the Zimbabwe elections masked other events that affected the legitimacy of the results, Christian Aid's country manager said on Monday.

The manager, Miriam Machaya, spoke of long queues for registration and many people turned away; of the late publication of the list of polling locations; of local leaders in rural areas "frog-marching" people to polling stations; and of voting lists containing "people who should not be there".

"The Church said, like everyone else, that [the election] was peaceful. But that has overshadowed other problems bubbling under," she said.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission reported on Saturday that Mr Mugabe had won 61 per cent of the vote to elect a President, extending his 33-year rule for another five years. Mr Tsvangirai, formerly Prime Minister from 2009, and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had won 34 per cent. Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party also secured three-quarters of the seats in the Zimbabwean parliament.

Instead of celebrating, Mrs Machaya reported, people in Harare were "very subdued. . . There is just this sense of not believing what the people have declared. People are asking, 'What has happened?' There is a lot of despondency and worry."

On Saturday, Mr Tsvangirai said: "The fraudulent and distorted election has plunged Zimbabwe into a constitutional, political, and economic crisis."

He called on the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community to "meet urgently to deal with the crisis", and for a "credible, free and fair, legitimate election" to be held.

Mrs Machaya said that, "knowing that the court system itself is so compromised", a legal challenge to the result was unlikely to be successful.

In 2008, Mr Tsvangirai won the first round of presidential elections, but withdrew from the second round after accusing pro-Mugabe militias of attacking his supporters.

On Friday, the AU reported that this year's election had taken place "in an atmosphere devoid of violence, harassment, and disturbances". But it highlighted several "shortcomings". The final voters' roll was published two days before the election - too late for meaningful inspection - and was not made available to all political parties. There were "serious concerns" about duplication, and omission of voters' names; about the high incidence of voters turned away from polling stations, and the large number of assisted voters. 

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, commended the "peaceful" elections, but said that the UK Government had "grave concerns" over the conduct of the election.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said: "The United States does not believe that the results represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people."

The President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, congratulated Mr Mugabe on his victory.

A report by the Research and Advocacy Unit, a Zimbabwean NGO, published last month, suggested that nearly two million potential voters aged under 30 were unregistered, while more than a million people on the roll had either left, or had died.

On Thursday, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which deployed 7000 observers, also said that the credibility of the elections was "seriously compromised". While 99.97 per cent of rural voters were registered, this applied to only 67.94 per cent of urban voters.

On Saturday, a joint statement from the leaders of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe read: "Where there are legitimate and substantiated irregularities and anomalies, we urge concerned parties to resolve these through peaceful dialogue, law-abiding, and in an orderly manner."

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, whose diocese has links to Zimbabwe, said on Monday: "The dispute over the electoral process is a matter for grave concern."

The diocese of Rochester also has Zimbabwean links. The Bishop of Tonbridge, Dr Brian Castle, said: "Prayers for the peacefulness of the elections have generally been answered: we now need to be patient, to see what happens in the coming weeks and months."

A report published a year ago by Freedom House, reported a slump in support for the MDC from 38 per cent to 20 per cent, compared with a surge for Zanu-PF, from 17 per cent to 31 per cent, between 2010 and 2012.

Mrs Machaya said that Christian Aid's priority in Zimbabwe was to strengthen local advocacy "in the hope that, once they get confident about challenging things that affect them in their own local areas, they might be able to start to talk about electoral processes and democratic processes".

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