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SADC disappoints civil society

MDC demonstration in Harare confronted by police, 23 Jan 2008. IRIN
Police ban demonstrations

Zimbabwe's civil society and the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), have expressed disappointment over the outcome of the much vaunted crisis summit held by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Zambian president and SADC chair Levy Mwanawasa called the extraordinary meeting of the regional body in the Zambian capital, Lusaka, to discuss mounting tensions after the result of Zimbabwe's presidential poll had yet to be announced more than two weeks after the election.

The MDC claim that their leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, defeated President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. Tsvangirai and a third presidential candidate, Simba Makoni, attended the crisis meeting in Lusaka but Mugabe opted out and instead sent three of his cabinet ministers.

Since the combined elections on 29 March, in which voters elected municipal councillors, members of the House of Assembly, senators, and the president, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has only announced the results for members of the lower house and the senate.

The MDC petitioned the High Court to force the electoral body to announce the results of the presidential race, but this was dismissed with costs by presiding Judge Tendai Uchena. The reasoning of the decision will be made available on 15 April.

''The Zimbabwean electorate is disappointed that nothing substantial came out of the SADC summit. For many it is back to drawing board''
The eight SADC heads who attended the crisis summit in Lusaka said the ZEC should verify and announce the results of the presidential election, as guided by the country's laws, and that South African president Thabo Mbeki - who stopped over in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, to meet with Mugabe on his way to Lusaka - should continue his role as mediator between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the MDC.

At the close of the summit, the SADC urged that if no candidate achieved the 50-plus-one vote required for an outright win, the second round of voting should take place in a free environment, and said it would send another delegation to observe this ballot.

"The Zimbabwean electorate is disappointed that nothing substantial came out of the SADC summit. For many, it is back to the drawing board because the regional leaders failed to address fundamental issues, instead almost endorsing ZEC's unjustified delay in announcing the results," David Chimhini, director of the Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust (ZIMCET), an organisation working to promote voter rights, told IRIN.

SADC ignores rising violence

"One would have expected the SADC leaders to come out more firmly than they did. They failed to make pronouncements on rising violence, the failure by Mugabe to attend [the Lusaka summit], the closure of the ZEC command centre without informing interested parties, observers being brutalised, journalists being arrested, and the heavy deployment of soldiers and police officers across the country," Chimhini said.

"SADC diplomacy has proved once more that it cannot address the concerns of the people when they need regional support most," he commented.

"How come they did not tell us whether it was normal or not to wait for two full weeks for the presidential results to be made public, when polls that took place on the same day have been announced?"

SADC observers endorsed the 29 March poll as free and fair before the vote count began.

MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said, "We are not as satisfied as we would have wanted to be, but half a loaf is better than nothing because, at least, you have something to eat. We are gratified that the regional leaders saw it prudent to call an emergency meeting because that exhibited a sense of solidarity on their part."

Chimhini said SADC's failure to condemn Mugabe's government for banning political rallies "definitely should not have escaped their attention, considering that it happened on the eve of the Lusaka summit".

A day before the summit, police commanders in Harare announced at press briefing that no political rallies would be permitted until all election results had been announced.

"Surely, those who want to provoke the breach of peace, whoever they are and whatever office they hold, will be dealt with severely," said Faustino Mazango, who is responsible for maintaining order nationally during the election period. He added that the MDC was "spoiling for a fight".

Police ban political rallies

The ban on political rallies was instituted in the wake of an MDC application for a rally in Harare because the police felt the political atmosphere was too tense.

"There is no justification in announcing a ban of political rallies. Zimbabwe is not at war, but if there is such war, it is not declared as such officially. How can the police say they have inadequate manpower to monitor a rally when there are hundreds of police officers in the streets who are apparently just loitering?" Chimhini said.

He said the ban on rallies was a government tactic to suppress the views of people disgruntled by the current political and economic crises and that it might "provoke people to engage in civil unrest as a way of protesting the trampling of their liberties".

Welshman Ncube, secretary-general of a breakaway faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara, which won six seats in parliament and five in the senate, said the police ban was illegal.

''Clearly, the ban is unlawful. This is just an insidious move to attempt to subvert the will of the people, to deny them their constitutional right of assembly. We have been put in a permanent state of armed suppression''
"Clearly, the ban is unlawful because the amended POSA [Public Order and Security Act] does not allow for such a unilateral decision by the police. This is just an insidious move to attempt to subvert the will of the people, to deny them their constitutional right of assembly. We have been put in a permanent state of armed suppression," Ncube told IRIN.

He said the ban was "the coercive work of a government that is beleaguered and knows force is the only way to maintain its hold on power".

Chamisa said the ban was a joke and his party would not heed it. "That is nonsense, and one of those jokes by Mugabe's desperate government. We say 'no' to a police state."

Zimbabweans cast their ballots amid an economic crisis marked by the world's highest annual inflation rate - more than 100,000 percent - an unemployment rate of about 80 percent, and shortages of food, medicines, fuel and foreign currency.

ZANU-PF lost its majority in parliament for the first time since independence, but has called for a recount of votes in 23 constituencies where it claims its candidates were cheated. The ZEC said the recount would take place on 19 April.

According to local reports the High Court issued an order on 12 April prohibiting the recount. A ZEC official was quoted by the state-run daily newspaper, The Herald, as saying that it would go ahead with the recount because it had not yet seen the court judgement.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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