Mugabe re-elected to lead Zimbabwe

Opponent, observers suggest polling fraud

March 14, 2002|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

HARARE, Zimbabwe - After a vote marked by intimidation at the polls, the government of Zimbabwe announced yesterday that Robert G. Mugabe, the only president the country has ever known, won election to a new six-year term.

Mugabe's opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, a labor leader who helped form the country's first significant opposition party, said the three-day election was rigged and did not reflect the will of the people.

"The people of Zimbabwe are seething with anger," Tsvangirai said at a news conference. "We pledge not to abandon the people in this, their greatest hour of need. We remain firmly committed to a democratic and peaceful path, which we shall pursue to the end."

Mugabe won 56.2 percent of the vote, the government announced, but the voting that took place Saturday, Sunday and Monday was condemned as unfair by international observer missions, the United States, Great Britain and human rights groups.

Government officials brushed aside criticism, claiming the vote was an endorsement of Mugabe's plans to reclaim land from white farmers and defend the country from alleged meddling by Great Britain.

"It shows the president's message was well-received," Jonathan Moyo, Zimbabwe's minister of information, told state run media. "It echoed and reverberated across all corners of the country and that is why the center is holding."

In Washington, President Bush said that flaws in Zimbabwe's election will prevent the United States from recognizing Mugabe as the winner. Bush said at a news conference that the United States was consulting with other countries to decide how "to deal with this flawed election."

Earlier, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said that the election was marked by "numerous and profound irregularities" that will lead to a deepening of the crisis in Zimbabwe.

"Mr. Mugabe may claim victory, but not democratic legitimacy," Powell said in a statement released by his spokesman. The policies of Mugabe's government "have been marked by a blatant disregard for the rule of law, serious human rights abuses, a broad repression of the Zimbabwean electorate, and ultimately the disenfranchisement of thousands of Zimbabwean voters."

During the campaign, more than 100 people were killed in political violence and thousands more were beaten, kidnapped or harassed, human rights groups say.

On the polling days, thousands of people waited up to 72 hours to vote. When polls closed Monday night in Harare, the capital, riot police with tear gas and police dogs chased away thousands of voters still waiting.

Riot police and the military remained on alert there and in Harare's suburbs. A caravan of supporters of Mugabe's party wound through the city yesterday afternoon, tooting horns and cheering. But the day remained peaceful with people going to work, without the protests many had expected.

For Zimbabwe, the future remains uncertain. Already slapped by sanctions from the United States and the European Union, Mugabe may find himself further isolated as he tries to govern a nation divided politically and economically.

"It looks very clear that Mugabe stole the election," said John Makumbe, professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe. "It looks like the country [will go] further into chaos and isolation. Mugabe is going to be more ostracized and treated as an illegitimate leader."

Mugabe's 22 years in office have been marked by corruption and failed experiments with socialism, though he was one of Africa's most respected leaders when the country gained independence from Britain in 1980.

To maintain his hold on the presidency, Mugabe, 78, encouraged the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms without compensation, in the name of land-reform. The program has disrupted the agriculture industry, the backbone of Zimbabwe's economy.

The opposition party, he insisted, was part of a British-backed plot to re-colonize Zimbabwe. The government sponsored a program of violence against the president's opponents, unleashing bands of unemployed youths across the countryside.

But it will be difficult to solve the country's economic problems without support from an international community already skeptical of the election results.

More than 60 percent of the population is unemployed, and inflation is at more than 100 percent a year. A third of the adult population has AIDS or is infected with HIV, and food shortages exist.

"These failed elections are a tragedy for the people of Zimbabwe, but the worst may still be ahead," said Walter Kansteiner, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. "Zimbabwe and the region cannot return to business as usual. Zimbabwe's rapidly shrinking economy will continue to have far-reaching effects."

Independent election observers noted the same problems with the election - violence, intimidation, long lines for voters in the cities and a general lack of transparency by the government in carrying out the election.

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