Pressure builds for Zimbabwe poll result


Zimbabweans hoped a court ruling Tuesday might bring to an end their long wait for presidential election results, ten days after the polls and with international pressure mounting on Robert Mugabe.

President Mugabe, 84, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, has so far remained defiant and his ruling ZANU-PF endorsed him last week to run in a second-round run-off against his main rival.

Morgan Tsvangirai, the 56-year-old opposition leader, maintains he secured enough votes in the March 29 polls to avoid a run-off, in which he says democracy will fall victim to violence and intimidation from pro-Mugabe thugs.

Tsvangirai visited South Africa on Monday on his first trip abroad since the March 29 polls. He met there with Jacob Zuma, who was elected head of the ruling African National Congress in December and is likely to be the next South African president.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) seized parliamentary control from ZANU-PF for the first time in simultaneous legislative elections but Mugabe's ruling party is contesting enough seats to reverse that result.

All eyes will therefore be on Justice Tendai Uchena who has promised to rule Tuesday on an opposition bid to force the electoral commission to immediately release the presidential results.

Uchena announced on Monday that contrary to the assertions of the commission, whose leaders are appointed by Mugabe, his court did have jurisdiction to hear the case. The hearing is due to start at 1000 GMT.

Mugabe is under enormous international pressure to allow the release of the results after a flurry of statements Monday from the European Union, the White House, the US State Department, and the United Nations.

State media reported at the weekend that the ruling party had snubbed an approach from the MDC to form a unity government and was now demanding a complete recount of the presidential vote after detecting irregularities.

This was met with scorn in Washington.

"It's overdue that the election results be announced," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

"It's interesting that they haven't had the official election results announced, yet there is a call for a recount. I'm not sure of the logic train there," McCormack said.

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe ever since independence from Britain in 1980, has sought to stoke racial tensions and discredit the opposition as Western puppets who would reverse his land reforms.

"Land must remain in our hands. The land is ours, it must not be allowed to slip back into the hands of whites," Mugabe was quoted as saying by the state daily Herald on Monday.

The Commercial Farmers Union, which represents white farmers in Zimbabwe, said Mugabe supporters had moved onto at least 30 white-owned properties and accused the president of orchestrating the campaign.

The farm invasions serve as a reminder of the violence which followed Mugabe's last electoral reverse when he lost a referendum on presidential powers in 2000.

The then occupation of some 4,000 farms came after he was defeated in a constitutional referendum aimed at broadening his powers and facilitating land seizures.

Critics blame Mugabe's land reform programme, which was intensified after he lost the referendum in 2000, for Zimbabwe's meltdown from regional breadbasket to economic basket case.

Faced with 80 per cent unemployment and six-digit inflation, almost one third of Zimbabwe's 13 million population have left the country, both to find work and food as even basics such as bread and cooking oil are now hard to come by. (AFP)