- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Authorities said today they would recount the votes from nearly two dozen parliamentary races as the ruling party sought to overturn election results that cost it control of the legislature for the first time in the nation’s history.

As Zimbabwe’s election crisis headed into a third week — with the results of the presidential vote still not released — southern African leaders held an emergency summit and called for the swift verification of the results in the presence of all parties.

The summit declaration, following an all-night, marathon meeting in neighboring Zambia that ended this morning, fell far short of opposition calls for neighboring leaders to pressure President Robert Mugabe to step down after 28 years in power.

It also did not fulfill the hopes of Western powers, the United Nations and regional rights groups for the summit — which Mugabe skipped — to at least demand an immediate announcement of results from the March 29 vote.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who attended the summit, claims to have won the presidential election outright. Independent tallies showed Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not enough to avoid a runoff.

The election commission has released results for the nation’s 210 parliamentary races showing Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change winning 109 seats, giving it control of the parliament and humiliating Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, which won only 97 seats. Three seats will be decided in by-elections and the remaining seat was won by an independent.

In the days since those results were announced, however, the government has alleged that widespread electoral fraud biased the outcome against the ruling party and arrested 11 election officials.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said it would conduct a full recount yesterday of the presidential and parliamentary ballots cast in 23 constituencies — all but one of them won by the opposition, the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper reported. Commission chairman George Chiweshe said candidates, party representatives and observers would be allowed to witness the process, the paper said.

If the vote is overturned in even some of those districts, the ruling party could take control of parliament again.

The MDC filed a petition Friday to block any attempt at a recount and a hearing is set for Tuesday, opposition lawyer Alec Muchadehama said. He argued that ruling party representatives had signed off on the official tallies from those districts after the vote, but are now calling them fraudulent.

“Suddenly, two weeks later, the same person who said ‘this is the outcome’ and signed for it says they need a recount,” Muchadehama said. He said that in the district the MDC is challenging, the party representative had refused to sign off on the result.

Government spokesman Bright Matonga said the reports of irregularities came from both sides, adding that he did not know if the recount would further delay presidential results.

Zimbabwe’s High Court is expected to rule tomorrow on an opposition petition to force the immediate release of the presidential results. The court, stacked with judges loyal to Mugabe, has waited more than a week to rule on the urgent appeal.

The MDC charges that Mugabe is delaying the result while his party wages a campaign of violence against those who voted against him. International rights groups also have documented the attacks.

Government officials have repeatedly dismissed all charges of violence and intimidation.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa — one of few African leaders to openly criticize Mugabe — called yesterday’s regional summit to try to resolve the standoff.

But the summit declaration recommended little action, saying the results should be verified quickly and in the presence of the candidates or their agents “within the rule of law.”

After the meeting, Mwanawasa’s foreign affairs minister told reporters there was no crisis in Zimbabwe, echoing statements made by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who met with Mugabe yesterday ahead of the summit.

“The very fact that they had the guts to actually hold this extraordinary summit acknowledges that things are not right in Zimbabwe,” countered MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti.

The government’s Matonga called the summit’s statement “fair.”

“You’ve got to respect each member’s sovereignty,” he said. “There is a court process that we follow. What we are doing is within the law.”

Mbeki, the chief mediator on Zimbabwe, has pursued a policy of “quiet diplomacy,” which some critics have said simply allowed Mugabe to continue his autocratic rule unimpeded.

Associated Press Writer Michelle Faul in Lusaka, Zambia, contributed to this report.


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