Election result still in the balance

[Zimbabwe] President Robert Mugabe.
President Robert Mugabe has held 'frank' talks with UN envoy Jan Egeland (UN)

Zimbabwe's High Court on Tuesday reserved judgment on the petition by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to have the results of the March 2002 presidential elections annulled.

The MDC, whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai lost to President Robert Mugabe, alleges that Mugabe's victory was due to a number of irregularities and are petitioning the court to declare the election invalid. If the MDC is successful, another election will have to be held within 90 days.

"The judge wants time to consider the submissions ... The evidence is overwhelming and our legal arguments were very strong, our case is watertight," MDC shadow agriculture minister, Renson Gasela, told IRIN on Wednesday. He added he had expected the government to have "come out with more arguments" in its defence.

IRIN was unable to get comment from government officials.

The MDC's legal challenge, which began on Monday, include the allegation that polling stations in only 19 out of 120 constituencies opened for a third day of voting, and many only for half a day, in spite of a successful court application by Tsvangirai to have the polling period extended.

Tsvangirai had applied for the order after it was found that the voting process was moving very slowly. It was argued also that the failure to open for a third day had a substantial bearing on the outcome of the election and "for this reason alone" the presidential election should be set aside.

The MDC also alleged that Mugabe had changed the election rules. The party submitted that during February 2003, after nomination day, the ruling ZANU-PF pushed through parliament a General Law Amendment Act that made significant changes to the election rules. They said the law was passed in violation of the rules and procedures of the Zimbabwe parliament, and was declared invalid by the Supreme Court. However, Mugabe declared the act to be valid and overturned the Supreme Court ruling.

This enabled him not only to appoint military personnel to the Electoral Supervisory Commission, but also to remove certain categories of voters from the voters' roll. Zimbabwe's opposition media have alleged that the military coordinated the government's election strategy.

The legal director of the MDC, David Coltart, told the anti-ZANU-PF UK-based SW Radio Africa on Tuesday night that the party had 27 arguments why the elections should be rerun. A major reason, he said, was that the Electoral Supervisory Commission was one person short at the time, and so was not lawfully constituted.

The election results were generally accepted by African leaders, but rejected by European countries, the United States and the Commonwealth. After the election, the MDC and ZANU-PF started conciliatory talks, but these collapsed when the MDC refused ZANU-PF's demand that they withdraw the petition to have the election results nullified.

This also marked an apparent escalation of anti-MDC crackdowns by the government, in which all the party's top leadership face civil or criminal charges.

Chris Maroleng, a researcher at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies (ISS), told IRIN that one of the government's strategies appeared to be to keep the party tied up in litigation to reduce its effectiveness. "Especially the top leadership, like Morgan Tsvangirai, Welshman Ncube and Gibson Sibanda, who are busy with the treason trial, and now the election petition," said Maroleng.

The men are accused of treason over an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe.

Others charged include party spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi and MPs and organisers across the country, besides hundreds of supporters arrested during stayaways and marches. Maroleng said this would have the effect of pushing leadership down a level, leaving the middle ranks to fill the vacuum and delegating authority to the lower rungs of the party.

"The question now is, can the MDC effectively run the organisation at lower levels of management, and does it create divisions [within the party]?" he asked.

Besides the long-awaited challenge to the presidential elections, the MDC has also launched individual challenges to 35 of the 62 seats won by ZANU-PF in the June 2000 parliamentary elections. So far, the party had won eight and lost five, a party statement said. Three had been withdrawn and 20 were still to be heard.

ZANU-PF has appealed the results and left the MPs in their seats until the outcome of the appeals.

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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