- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s High Court rejected an opposition demand today for the immediate release of long-delayed election results, prolonging a political crisis that has paralyzed this southern African nation for more than two weeks.

An opposition spokesman said the party would stage a nationwide “stay-away” from work day tomorrow.

The main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, says he won the March 29 election outright, and has accused President Robert Mugabe of holding back the results so he can orchestrate a runoff and ensure his 28-year grip on power.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change had hoped that the court — though stacked with Mugabe loyalists — would force the election commission to release the results.

The commission, which had published results for parliamentary and local races several days after the election, said it was delaying the release of the presidential results so it could verify the votes.

The court accepted the election commission’s explanation that it was investigating anomalies in some of the voting districts, ruling that “it can therefore justify the delay.”

“It’s a very sad day in Zimbabwe,” MDC lawyer Andrew Makoni said. The court “has given the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission a blank check. We don’t know when the ZEC will be ready with results. We don’t know what specific time would be reasonable in the eyes of the court.”

Opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the party — which has refrained from holding major protests in recent weeks — would stage a nationwide “stay-away” from work tomorrow. Political rallies have been banned and the MDC has not called for street protests.

Government spokesman Bright Matonga said the ruling was “the right judgment” because it allows the electoral commission to complete a thorough review of results. He dismissed charges that the court is biased toward the ruling party, arguing that the opposition was willing to apply to the court because it expected an impartial ruling.

“The electoral commission should be allowed to do its job,” Matonga said.

The electoral commission’s offices have been shut since last week. The commission has said vote processing was continuing at a separate location, but the opposition and local rights groups charge that ballots are not being processed.

“The verification, from we understand, has not even begun,” Irene Petras, head of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, told reporters in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Petras said that if there is another counting center, no one except the ruling party appears to have been let in.

The ruling party also has worked to overturn the results of parliamentary elections held alongside the presidential vote. Official results showed Mugabe’s party lost its majority in parliament for the first time in Zimbabwe’s history.

But electoral officials agreed to recount the results for 23 constituencies, all but one of them won by the opposition. If the recount, set for Saturday, overturned just a few of those results, the ruling party would regain control of parliament.

A court hearing is set for tomorrow on the opposition’s call to stop the recount.

Meanwhile, Tsvangirai was in South Africa today meeting prominent officials, his spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo said.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, tasked with helping find a solution to the crisis, has argued that confronting Mugabe could backfire, and other leaders in the region have followed his lead. But Mbeki is under increasing pressure to show results and some in his party have called for firmer action.

Mbeki, who met with Mugabe on Saturday, said over the weekend there was no crisis in Zimbabwe.

Developments in Zimbabwe since the vote have prompted condemnation from Western governments and rights groups, who say they have documented a wave of politically motivated attacks as Mugabe’s allies appear to be using intimidation to ensure victory in an expected runoff.

Mugabe’s neighbors, though, have been largely silent. A summit of regional leaders that ended yesterday in Zambia failed to demand the immediate release of results or to condemn Mugabe, as the opposition had hoped.

Instead, the leaders said the results should be verified quickly and in the presence of the candidates or their agents “within the rule of law.” Mugabe skipped the summit.

Meanwhile, two South African satellite technicians were released today after being held for more than two weeks on charges of covering the election illegally. The two were in Zimbabwe working for Globecast, which provided satellite services to some broadcasters covering the election.

“They’ve been acquitted on both charges. They’re at the South African Embassy at this moment, and we hope to fly them out later this evening,” said Abdulhak Gardee, a representative of Globecast in Johannesburg.

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