- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 2, 2003

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said yesterday his party will “seek justice” when a long-awaited challenge to last year’s presidential election gets under way in his nation’s High Court today.

President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980, claimed victory in the election, but many countries, including the United States, have refused to recognize the result, citing fraud, vote-rigging and widespread intimidation.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, led by Mr. Tsvangirai, announced the court challenge as soon as the results were declared in April 2002 and has accused the government of delaying the case.

Mr. Tsvangirai said in a telephone interview yesterday that his party was determined to show the world that the election had been neither free nor fair.

“We are going to present the facts, and that’s all we really need to do,” he said. “Our objective is to seek justice for the people of Zimbabwe, and this is something we believe in.”

Opposition spokesman Paul Tenba Nyathi says his party has put together 167 pages of “devastating revelations of electoral misconduct.”

The Zimbabwean Constitution says only the parliament can establish rules for an election, but in the weeks before the vote, Mr. Mugabe used his sweeping presidential powers to decree changes to the electoral act that disenfranchised many of the 2 million Zimbabweans who live and work in South Africa, most of whom support the opposition MDC.

Mr. Nyathi said that if the opposition wins on this point alone, the entire election could be declared null and void.

The MDC also plans to present evidence that the police, army and the Central Intelligence Organization — a spy agency that operates from the president’s office — beat and tortured thousands of voters in the months leading up to the election.

Attorneys for Mr. Mugabe’s government said they were ready to oppose “each and every argument presented to the court” but declined to give details.

Foreign observers who covered the election said ballot boxes had been stuffed in transit from rural constituencies to urban counting centers. In one constituency, more than 42,000 votes were recorded, yet, according to the government’s own population census, the region had fewer than 20,000 people of voting age.

Under Mr. Mugabe’s economic policies, including a coercive land-redistribution program, the local currency unit has fallen from 58 to the U.S. dollar three years ago to a current rate of 6,000 to $1. The United Nations estimates that 70 percent of the country’s 12 million people live under conditions of famine.

Despite several South African initiatives to encourage Mr. Mugabe, 79, to either step down or enter negotiations with Mr. Tsvangirai, little progress has been made.

Observers in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, see little chance that the High Court will side with the opposition, whatever the evidence. All the judges on the court have been appointed by Mr. Mugabe.

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