Officials began recounting ballots for a couple of dozen legislative seats on Saturday, an exercise that could overturn the Zimbabwean opposition’s landmark victory.
Human rights groups continued to report allegations of beatings and torture of opponents deemed to have voted “wrongly” in the elections that humiliated longtime President Robert Mugabe.
Three weeks after the March 29 vote, Zimbabweans are still awaiting results of the presidential vote that Mugabe is widely believed to have lost. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai claims he won the election outright and that the delays are aimed at brutalizing and intimidating voters and engineering a runoff vote.
In one contested constituency, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported a failed petrol bomb attack on offices where ballot boxes were stored. The state-controlled newspaper quoted police as saying three attackers threw a homemade bomb at the Gutu district administration office in the early hours of Friday, but that it did not explode. It said the attackers drove away when challenged by a police officer.
Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp, also state-owned, reported the re-count would take as many as three days.
The ruling party is challenging the count in 23 constituencies, most won by the opposition, including in Mugabe’s home district of Zvimba. An opposition attempt to stop the recount was blocked in court on Friday. Earlier this week, a Zimbabwe court rejected an opposition appeal for the immediate release of the presidential results. Courts are stacked with Mugabe loyalists.
In Zvimba, officials excluded reporters as the count began in the presence of officials from the ruling and opposition parties as well as local observers. Reporters saw no international observers at Zvimba, though The Herald newspaper quoted officials of the Southern African Development Community as saying it had sent 50 monitors.
A day earlier, the country marked its 28th Independence Day celebrations, at which Mugabe devoted his first major speech since the elections to denouncing whites and former colonial ruler Britain.
The speech was an attempt to convince Zimbabweans that the cause of their political and economic troubles lies abroad.
The opposition and independent observers blame Mugabe’s policies for the collapse of an economy that was once a regional breadbasket. The often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms that began on Mugabe’s orders in 2000 put land in the hands of his cronies instead of productive farmers.
The farm invasions were a dramatic example of Mugabe’s familiar tactic of demonizing whites. His anti-white rhetoric has struck a chord in a country that suffered under white minority rule and fought a seven-year war that helped bring independence in 1980.
But after repeated attacks on the white community, the seizure of most white-owned farms and the near collapse of the economy, the white community’s size and power – and perhaps the effectiveness of scapegoating it – have dwindled. A third of the population, including millions of blacks, have fled the country as economic and political refugees.
Mugabe claimed on Friday that the opposition wanted “this country to go back to white people, to the British, the country we died for. It will never happen.”
Tsvangirai’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change is accusing Mugabe of planning to hold onto power simply by refusing to release the election results. Results from legislative races held alongside the presidential votes gave control of the parliament to the opposition for the first time.
The opposition also charges a campaign of arrests, assaults and other intimidation is designed to suppress political dissent. The independent Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights says at least 200 people have been treated for severe injuries. The group was investigating at least two reported but unconfirmed deaths.
New York-based Human Rights Watch charged torture and violence are surging in Zimbabwe. It said the ruling party was setting up ‘torture camps to systematically target, beat, and torture people suspected of having voted for the (opposition) MDC in last month’s elections.”
Mugabe accused others of plotting violence, and signaled there could be more.
“We know some people are planning that there will be places where there will be violence, with people burning shops and cars,” he said. “Those who are planning this, please stop it immediately, otherwise you are going to be in serious trouble with us.” (AP)
Officials begin recount of ballots in Zimbabwe amid protests