Zimbabwe's official presidential election results may remain secret for at least another week while substantial numbers of votes are recounted in a move the opposition says is designed to fraudulently overturn Robert Mugabe's defeat and his Zanu-PF party's defeat in parliament.
The Movement for Democratic Change says that the continuing delay in making public the results of the ballot held more than two weeks ago, and the breathing space given to Mugabe by a weekend summit of regional leaders, is permitting Zanu-PF to widen its campaign of violent intimidation in rural areas.
The opposition yesterday accused the police of protecting armed gangs who are severely beating its supporters and burning some of them from their homes.
The high court in Harare is expected to rule today on an MDC petition demanding the immediate release of the final count of the presidential poll, and the opposition has called a general strike from tomorrow to back its demand.
The MDC plans to go back to court to block the Zimbabwe electoral commission (ZEC) from holding recounts next Saturday in 23 constituencies, all but one of them lost by Zanu-PF to the MDC as Mugabe's party lost control of parliament for the first time since independence 28 years ago.
The overturning of the opposition's victories in nine constituencies will be sufficient for Zanu-PF to take back parliament. The recounts would also affect the outcome of the presidential election which the opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, claims to have won outright on the basis of his party's tally of returns posted at individual polling stations. The MDC accuses the government of trying to ensure that the official results give Tsvangirai less than 50% of the vote so as to force a run-off election against Mugabe.
The MDC spokesman, Nelson Chamisa, said the government has had more than a fortnight to tamper with ballot boxes under the control of the ZEC.
"We will not accept any recount because for us that is accepting rigged results. The ZEC are in custody of the ballot boxes for two weeks and heavens know what they have done to the ballot papers. They might have stuffed them with their votes," he said. "We've won this election and we're ready to form the next government."
According to the government-run Sunday Mail, the ZEC's chairman, George Chiweshe, concluded there were "reasonable grounds" for a recount. State radio reported that a document showed the MDC bribed election officials. Eleven ZEC workers have been arrested and accused of tampering with the vote. The opposition has dismissed the accusations.
Leaders of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) called on the election commission to release the results "expeditiously" after their summit in Zambia ended at dawn yesterday.
But opposition leaders were disappointed that the region's leaders did not put more pressure on Mugabe to recognise defeat. The MDC's general secretary, Tendai Biti, said it appeared they are trying to "seduce" his party into participating in a run-off election which he has rejected because of rising violence.
"It is as if SADC is saying if there are guarantees of the rule of law and conditions in the run off then everyone should participate," he said.
Biti said efforts by South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, to negotiate an end to years of deadlock had failed. He said the opposition wants "more vigour, more openness and a complete abandonment of the policy of quiet diplomacy". Mbeki angered Mugabe's opponents by describing Zimbabwe's election as "normal" and denying there is a political crisis.
The MDC said the delays are allowing Zanu-PF to pursue a campaign of violent intimidation against opposition supporters ahead of any run-off vote. Much of it is concentrated in rural areas, such as Mashonaland, where there was a significant swing away from the ruling party.
Abel Samakande, an MDC parliamentary candidate in the region, said there is an organised assault against people there. "People are being beaten. It's Zanu-PF. The police are defending them. They're burning properties, houses. They're trying to burn my car and kill me so I'm in Harare at the moment. I brought some wounded people here. But I have to go back for my wife," he said.
Aftermath: What the aid agencies planThe spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington agreed on a three-pronged strategy for Zimbabwe in the event of regime change.
In the first phase, the Fund would be responsible for restoring stability to Zimbabwe's currency, which has fallen precipitously as the country's economic crisis has caused hyper-inflation. The IMF has put aside $1bn for a currency stabilisation fund.
Simultaneously, the World Bank would announce a package of humanitarian assistance designed to ease the country's problems of poverty and hunger caused by the economic crisis.
Some humanitarian assistance has been arriving in Zimbabwe through aid agencies and charities but the Bank believes a major increase in financial support will be needed over the coming months. Officials in Washington said plans for the emergency help from the Fund and the Bank had now been finalised and the money could start flowing to Zimbabwe within days.
The final part of the package will be involve land reform. Although seen as less pressing than stabilising the currency or helping the hungry, the institutions believe that the land reform programme of Robert Mugabe is a root cause of Zimbabwe's plight and that new reforms to boost the country's once-strong agricultural sector will require western money.
Britain has agreed that its former colonial links mean that it should lead the way in funding land reform and that money would be reallocated in the Department for International Development's budget from other spending commitments.
News and politics