MDC furious with new poll delay

Zimbabwe's opposition reacted furiously on Thursday to the prospect of a run-off poll being delayed until the end of July, accusing Robert Mugabe of buying time so he can cow voters into submission reports AFP.

As officials confirmed the second round of a presidential election would not take place next week as scheduled, the Movement for Democratic Change feared the delay would be used to intensify a campaign of violence after Mugabe’s first round defeat and urged regional leaders to hold an emergency summit.

Under the terms of the electoral law, the run-off between MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Mugabe should take place within three weeks of the announcement of results from the first round which came on May 2.

However, according to an extraordinary government gazette published Thursday, the period has been extended to 90 days.

“Following upon the poll taken on the 29th of March, 2008… the period within which a second election to the office of the president is to be held is hereby extended from 21 days to 90 days from the date of the announcement of the results of the first poll,” it read.

The move means the run-off can now take place as late as July 31 rather than by the scheduled May 23 deadline.

MDC secretary general Tendai Biti said the extension was a ploy to perpetuate Mugabe’s 28-year stay in power and said leaders of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) should hold an emergency summit.

“The delay of the run-off is a clear indication that they want to hold onto power. This justifies the urgent need for an urgent SADC summit,” he told a press conference in South Africa where the MDC leadership is currently based.

“We insist the election will be held on May 23. We hope that SADC will stand up in front of the dictator, will speak in the face of the dictator.”

The MDC says at least 32 of its supporters have been killed by Mugabe followers since the first round took place on March 29 and thousands of people have been displaced from their homes.

While the elections themselves passed off peacefully, there has since been a steady rise in the levels of violence which the United Nations warned this week could reach crisis proportions.

Much of the violence has been in the countryside, a traditional stronghold for Mugabe but where he did worse than expected on March 29, and the MDC fears voters will be too scared to cast their ballot in the event of a lengthy delay.

“The whole idea is to displace over 500,000 people then to call the elections because these people won’t be able to go back to their communities to vote,” charged Biti.

Tsvangirai, who beat Mugabe in the first round but fell just short of an overall majority, said last weekend any election held after May 23 would be illegitimate.

However one of Mugabe’s senior lieutenants said that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) — whose leadership is appointed by the president — was acting within its rights by pushing back the run-off.

“It is lawful and ZEC has the authority to extend any period of an election in terms of the law and not what is being claimed by the MDC,” Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa was quoted as saying by the state-run Herald newspaper.

Lovemore Madhuku, a leading constitutional lawyer, said the delay had no legal basis but the opposition could do little about it.

“If you take them to court, the court will likely take 90 days to determine the matter,” he told AFP.

The commission took nearly five weeks to announce the results of the presidential election, held on the same day as parliamentary polls in which the MDC wrested control of the House of Assembly from the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) for the first time.

The 84-year-old Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980.

Seen as a post-colonial success story in the first decade-and-a-half after independence, Zimbabwe’s economy has been in freefall since Mugabe embarked on a land reform programme which saw thousands of white-owned farms expropriated.

Eighty percent of the workforce is unemployed while the official inflation rate is 165,000 percent — the highest in the world.

The extent of the chaos was underlined Thursday with the introduction of a new half-billion dollar bank note in a bid to tackle cash shortages.

The note comes into circulation 10 days after the introduction of a quarter-billion one early this month.

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