ROBERT Mugabe claimed to be on the eve of securing a fresh mandate to rule Zimbabwe, brushing aside growing calls to shelve a ballot branded a “sham” after the withdrawal of the main opposition leader.
As former South African president Nelson Mandela added to international pressure on Mugabe over violence in the country, the veteran Zimbabwean leader said he would continue governing Zimbabwe as he saw fit and would be willing to talk to the opposition only after he had won a sixth term in office.
Strengthened by increasing signs of regional and international exasperation, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai meanwhile said the 84-year-old Mr Mugabe was in the process of self-destruction, regardless of the outcome of today’s vote.
In his last rally before the country goes to the polls, Mugabe said he would be “magnanimous” in a victory which is assured, given that Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Tsvangirai pulled out of the contest last Sunday.
“Should we emerge victorious, which I believe we will, sure we won’t be arrogant, we will be magnanimous and say ‘let’s sit down and talk’, and talk we shall,” Mugabe told a rally outside Harare.
“So there it is, let the MDC reject it or accept it. We will continue to rule this country in the way we believe it should be ruled. This is an African country with responsible leaders.”
South African President Thabo Mbeki has been leading regional efforts to forge some kind of unity government.
Mr Tsvangirai himself also raised the prospect of a broad-based government yesterday by speaking of his willingness to share power on the basis of the first-round polls which gave him 47.9% against Mugabe’s 43.2%.
But with both men regarding themselves as the country’s rightful leaders there seemed little chance of any end to the impasse.
“They [Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party] lost the election in March and what they’re going to do is to say to the world that we were voted in on Saturday by the people,” Tsvangirai said in a BBC interview.
“Mugabe will be sworn in as president and go around saying, ‘I am the legitimate leader’ and yet the whole world has condemned it.
“Even if he gets 90% it’s not different from Saddam Hussein, 99.9% of forced voting. What difference will that make?” he said.
International criticism of Mugabe has intensified, with Mandela speaking of a “tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe” in a rare public statement on the crisis.
US President George W Bush has said today’s polls “appear to be a sham”, adding he hoped the region would “continue to highlight the illegitimacy of the elections” while holder of the EU presidency, Slovenia also called for the polls to be delayed.
In an emergency meeting in Swaziland, the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) reiterated their desire for the poll to be postponed to allow more time for talks.
“Holding the elections under the current environment undermines the credibility and legitimacy of the outcome,” said Tomaz Augusto Salomao, SADC secretary general.
However, the SADC’s ap Mugabe appeared limited, with Mbeki conspicuous by his absence.
Meanwhile, the MDC’s secretary-general Tendai Biti was freed on bail yesterday, a fortnight after he was arrested over treason accusations.
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