- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) — Zimbabwe’s opposition rejected a presidential runoff election despite a media report saying today that the long-delayed official tally delivered them a victory short of an outright win.

CNN quoted an unnamed senior official with Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party as saying results from the March 29 election gave President Robert Mugabe 43 percent and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai 47 percent. A candidate must receive 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a presidential runoff in Zimbabwe.

The CNN source said the results meant a second round of voting was necessary.

In Johannesburg, opposition spokesman George Sibotshiwe said he had heard reports senior Zimbabwean government officials were saying official presidential results put Tsvangirai ahead by a slim margin. Sibotshiwe reiterated that the opposition would not take part in a runoff because it believed only fraudulent results would make a second round necessary.

“If Robert Mugabe cannot accept the real results now, what’s the guarantee he’ll accept the real results after a runoff?” Sibotshiwe asked.

Tsvangirai says he won the presidency outright; independent observers say Tsvangirai won the most votes, but not the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff.

In Harare, electoral commission officials said no results had been released, and that party officials would not see them until a verification process set to start tomorrow afternoon.

Sibotshiwe also said the reports a runoff would be necessary were part of a government strategy to gear expectations toward a runoff that Mugabe would engineer in his favor.

The opposition has said a campaign of terror and violence since the first round of voting has left it in disarray, with its main leaders out of the country citing fears of arrest. Independent rights groups have also said the postelection violence makes it unlikely a runoff could be free and fair.

Tiseke Kasambala, a Human Rights Watch researcher who was recently in Zimbabwe, said even without the violence, the government’s handling of the first round, including the delay in releasing presidential results, raised questions about whether any runoff would be valid.

Kasambala, who returned Monday from two weeks in Zimbabwe, also accused the country’s authoritarian regime of unleashing its army and ruling-party militants on dissenters, reserving the worst violence for those seen as betraying Mugabe.

The violence “is a form of punishment of people who turned against the ruling party,” Kasambala told reporters in Johannesburg today. “The government is actually focusing on its strongholds and some of the areas it thinks it should have won.”

She also said that in the past four days, Human Rights Watch had received reports that more than 100 polling station officers — most of them teachers and low-ranking civil servants — had been detained in an eastern province. She described that as another indication the government and its loyalists were targeting those seen as betraying Mugabe.

Mugabe’s administration has countered that the opposition groups are responsible for the violence. Attempts to reach Zimbabwean officials for comment today were not successful.

In Washington, the Senate passed a nonbinding resolution late yesterday calling on Mugabe to step aside and begin a peaceful transition to democratic rule.


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