South Africa 3.8.2013 12:01 pm

Mugabe party surges towards victory amid calls for calm

President Robert Mugabe

President Robert Mugabe "scrutinises" a ballot paper moments before casting his vote at Mhofu Primary School in Harare's Highfield suburb and where he has cast his vote in prior elections. Photo: Anne Mpalume.

Zimbabwe was set Saturday to release the official results of disputed elections, in which President Robert Mugabe’s party romped to victory, as the opposition held emergency talks over the “sham” polls.

Full results were expected later 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 89-year-old Mugabe could win “70 to 75 percent” in the presidential vote.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who described the vote as a “sham”, went into emergency talks Saturday to decide their next action.

The MDC has vowed not to accept the election results, sparking fears of a repeat of bloody violence that marked the aftermath of the 2008 election.

“Emotions are high, tensions are high across the country,” MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.

While on the country’s streets things have remained calm, UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged both political rivals to send “clear messages of calm” to their supporters.

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.

A senior MDC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, painted a picture of the dilemma the party faces amid its claims the election was stolen by ZANU-PF.

“We can’t tell people to be calm, we can’t tell people to demonstrate unless you know the outcome,” said the source.

Another senior party official dismissed speculation that the MDC is being offered a few posts in government.

The influential 15-member southern African bloc SADC also implored “all Zimbabweans to exercise restraint, patience and calm”.

All eyes are now on the MDC which was expected to hold a press conference on Saturday afternoon following its meeting.

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 on Friday met Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for three decades, 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, SADC’s 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.

Sapa

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, the CEO 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.”

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.

 

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