Presidential run-off faces delay in Zimbabwe

The presidential run off pitting president Robert Mugabe against opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will not be held in the next few weeks as required by law, the head of the electoral commission announced.

Tsvangirai announced over the weekend that he would participate in a run off against Robert Mugabe – but insisted the vote must legally be held within 21 days of the May 2 announcement of results from the first vote.

Electoral commission chief George Chiweshe confirmed that is what electoral laws require, but he said government officials need more time to prepare for the run off.

Government officials have said the electoral commission has up to a year to hold the second round.

“It was ambitious for the legislature to think 21 days would be enough,” Chiweshe said.

Chiweshe said there are legal provisions to extend the period before the election is held.

“We want to make it clear we intend to hold the run off at the earliest date because the period set by the legislature shows that it should be held as soon as possible,” he said.

Chiweshe said the electoral body was still waiting for the allocation of funds from the government to hold the poll.

It took the commission more than a month to announce results from the disputed March 29 presidential election.

Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, maintains that he won the first round outright and claims the official figures were fraudulent.

But Tsvangirai, who has remained abroad since the vote because of threats to his life, said in South Africa that he will take the risk of returning to Zimbabwe to contest a run off, despite the danger.

Mugabe has been accused of orchestrating violence against the opposition since the first round, raising questions about whether a run off would be free or fair.

The opposition accuses the electoral commission of being biased toward Mugabe and says any further delays could see more activists come under attack in an effort to prevent them voting.

Tendai Biti, secretary general of the opposition party, raised concerns about the “deepening humanitarian crisis” in Zimbabwe, the “longer the illegitimacy goes on”.

He disputed the electoral commission’s claim that there were legal grounds for delaying the run off. “They don’t have the discretion to move the date,” he said.

Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF, meanwhile, already has launched its run off campaign.

Presidential spokesman Patrick Chinamasa yesterday said the party will not allow an opposition victory.

“Mugabe, at 84, do you believe he is fighting for himself? That’s what the people of Zimbabwe should understand,” he told reporters in Harare. “He is fighting blatant attempts at re-colonising Zimbabwe.”

Chinamasa said the party’s campaign would be based on “land, empowerment, freedom and sovereignty”.

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and once was hailed for promoting racial reconciliation and bringing education and health care to the black majority. But in recent years he has been accused of holding onto power through elections that independent observers say were marred by fraud, intimidation and rigging, and of overseeing his country’s economic collapse.

Tsvangirai assured regional leaders that if he were to win the presidency, he would respect Mugabe’s place in Zimbabwe’s history.

Tsvangirai told reporters that Mugabe would be treated as the “father of the nation” in the interest of building peace and stability in Zimbabwe.

Twenty-two people have died, and 900 have been tortured in post-election violence, according to the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights. The group said 40,000 farmworkers have been displaced in an effort to prevent them from voting in the run off.

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