Opposition contests vote recount

As the Zimbabwean opposition contests the vote recount demanded by incumbent President Robert Mugabe's party, the Southern African Development Community summit called for "expeditious" verification and release of the election results.


Southern African leaders Sunday offered no swift solution to the election crisis in Zimbabwe where the opposition vowed to challenge a recount aimed, it said, at rigging the result for President Robert Mugabe.

Mugabe decided not to attend the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in the Zambian capital Lusaka, where regional leaders discussed Zimbabwe's post-election impasse long into the night.

The bloc stopped well short of criticising the Zimbabwean government or Mugabe, who was not even mentioned in a four-page joint statement that called only for the result of the March 29 poll to be delivered as "expeditiously" as possible.

It also urged all parties "to accept the results when they are announced."

Any hopes for a quick fix to the crisis that has enveloped Zimbabwe since presidential and parliamentary polls 15 days ago were dashed by an election commission announcement that all the votes in 23 of the country's 210 constituencies would be recounted next Saturday.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said it was mounting a legal challenge to the order, which party spokesman Nelson Chamisa argued was "designed to reverse the will of the people."

The MDC won a slim majority of parliamentary seats in the legislative vote and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has also claimed outright victory in the presidential ballot for which official results have yet to be released.

Mugabe's ZANU-PF need only win back nine seats in the recount to regain control of parliament. Presidential, senatorial and council votes will also be tallied again in the same 23 constituencies.

Amid rising tensions, with the opposition calling a general strike from Tuesday, Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhoanyiso Ndlovu said the army would not intervene in the crisis and rejected MDC claims that the country was being run by a military junta.

"The army will not fight against Zimbabweans because it is there to protect them, but it will definitely meet any foreign invading forces bent on reversing the gains of our independence," Ndlovu told The Sunday Mail, a state-run weekly.

"I believe everyone in the country is aware that there is no military junta. The soldiers are in the barracks where they belong."

Tsvangirai attended the Lusaka summit and his deputy was broadly happy with the outcome, although he expressed reservations at a call for the continued involvement of Thabo Mbeki, the president of regional power South Africa.

Mbeki was chief mediator between the governing ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai's MDC in the build-up to the election, but has since come under fire for his policy of "quiet diplomacy".

Mbeki must show "more vigour, more openness and a complete abandonment of the policy of quiet diplomacy," Tsvangirai's number two Tendai Biti told journalists in Lusaka.

Zimbabwe state television reported Saturday it had unearthed a secret document allegedly written by Biti and detailing plans by the MDC to rig the elections by paying off election officials.

Southern African leaders have been heavily criticised over their traditional reluctance to speak out against Mugabe, an elder statesman who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years and is the oldest leader in the region.

Nevertheless many in SADC are fed up with the economic mess on their doorstep with inflation in Zimbabwe now well into six figures, unemployment at over 80 percent and average life expectancy down to 36 years of age.

Mbeki dropped in on Harare on his way to the summit and held his first face-to-face talks with Mugabe since the disputed elections.

"The body authorised to release the results is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, let's wait for them to announce the results," he told journalists afterwards, adding that there was "no crisis" in his northern neighbour.

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