afrol News, 14 March - "President Mugabe stole the poll," says the Zimbabwean opposition, Harare and Bulawayo urban dwellers, Western nations and foreign media. "The elections were legitimate," concludes the Zimbabwean government, local media and African nations. This weekend's presidential elections did not end on Monday, one might conclude.
- Harare feels robbed; the independent but opposition-friendly Harare 'Daily News' titles its election aftermath analysis today. Here, one can read about the "deathly silence" that "enveloped Harare and Chitungwiza," where the vote for the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was heavy. The newspaper's switchboard had been "jammed with many callers, most of them sounding dejected, saying the weekend poll had not been free and fair and that the MDC had been robbed of a clear victory."
Sandra Mujokoro reported from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city and also an MDC stronghold. Interviewing various Bulawayo residents, she concluded they had "blasted the presidential election as being not free and fair and declared the result null and void."
Officially, President Mugabe got 54 percent of the vote, according to an official announcement yesterday. His main opponent, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, obtained officially obtained 40 percent of the vote. Some 360,000 votes differentiated the two main contesters.
All observers agree the voting capacity in Harare, Chitungwiza and Bulawayo had been inadequate and opening hours were not respected; causing many voters not being able to cast their vote. Out of more than 880,000 registered voters in Chitungwiza and Harare, only 439,600 cast their vote. Out of a possible one million people eligible to vote in Matabeleland, where Bulawayo is capital, only 491,000 had cast their ballot by the close of voting on Sunday.
Tsvangirai told journalists in Harare yesterday the MDC would not accept defeat as the poll had been rigged. "There was a calculated and insidious disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters, particularly in Harare and Chitungwiza," said Tsvangirai. He added that he estimated the number of people who were denied the right to vote in Harare and Chitungwiza alone, as they queued to vote, to be in excess of 360,000.
- We are hopeful that now that the people of Zimbabwe have spoken, the world will respect their verdict, the interim report of the South African Observers Mission's to the elections yesterday concluded. The mission's leader, Sam Motsuenyane, held the election "should be considered legitimate," and as thus be considered the people's voice.
The election analysis of the government-controlled Harare daily 'The Herald' today is therefore titled "Presidential poll free, fair," in quotation marks, that is, referring to "observer groups". The article quoted the preliminary conclusions of six observer groups of African origin; three from multinational agencies and teams from South Africa, Namibia and South Africa. All concluded positively on the elections.
An observer team from the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) said the elections, in general, were "transparent, credible, free and fair". The leader of the Nigerian observer team, Chief Ernest Shonekan, was quoted by 'The Herald' as commending Zimbabweans for a peaceful poll. The Namibian government's observer team also had declared the election "free and fair saying it reflected the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe." Its mission even claimed the election system had been "water tight, without room for rigging."
The newspaper however also mentioned the light critics of the African observer teams on the failure to give all Harare citizens a chance to vote. Only the team of African Development Community (SADC) had presented substantial critics.
It did, however, not mention the report of the Norwegian Observer Mission, which was forcefully criticising the poll. "The Observer Mission concludes that the Presidential Elections failed to meet key, broadly accepted, criteria for elections," the Norwegian mission leader Kåre Vollan yesterday concluded in his preliminary statement.
Also the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), which had 400 observers monitoring the poll, had been heavily critical. "There is no way these elections could be described as substantially free and fair," concluded yesterday Reginald Matchaba-Hove, chairman of the umbrella body consisting of 38 local church and civic groups.
The Norwegian statement and the ZESN conclusion were the clear favourites of international media, including afrol News, which dedicated yesterday's lead story on lamenting the South African mission's statement was biased. Headlines throughout the Western world read "Zimbabwean elections were rigged."
African media were more divided on their views as Mugabe, known for attacks on the press, is more a favourite to African nationalists than African media worrying about their independence. The statements of the South African mission were met with laughter when presented to journalists and diplomats at a Harare press conference.
The reactions from governments around the globe reflected the split between African and non-African observer teams. African head of states flocked to congratulate Mugabe on his victory. Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi told Mugabe his victory was a "testimony of the confidence and high esteem the people of Zimbabwe hold in you." Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa added Mugabe had "deserved victory".
South African President Thabo Mbeki, key African spokesman on the international arena, yesterday was more careful in commenting the elections. "We will have to work with Zimbabwe to help deal with the land question and economic recovery," Mbeki said. "Those are the two principles that will define the relation between South Africa and Zimbabwe, whoever is the President of Zimbabwe," he added, without mentioning the elections further.
Western government were, with few exceptions, clear in their condemnation. US President George W. Bush this night stated in clear language that his government did "not recognize the outcome of the election because we think it’s flawed. We are dealing with our friends to figure out how to deal with this flawed election." The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, already on Tuesday stated Mugabe had "stolen" the vote.
Most European countries indicated that the election had failed to be free and fair. The European Union is to discuss within short whether it is to expand its "smart sanctions" against Zimbabwe. The government of Norway, not an EU country, backed its mission's report and protested against the election.
The New Zealand government today announced it was ready to impose unilateral sanctions against Zimbabwe if the Commonwealth failed to suspend the country. The Commonwealth has mandated Australia, Nigeria and South Africa to report on the Zimbabwean poll to decide on Zimbabwe's future within the club of British ex-colonies.
While the future in Zimbabwe remains unsure - a popular uprising cannot be ruled out - the future for investments in Africa already seems to have experienced a setback. Western media noted with astonishment how official Africa was overwhelmingly in support of Mugabe - the modern symbol figure of all the bad governance, corruption and suppression Westerners believe to be the rule of the day in Africa. This strengthening of old popular clichés is sure to hurt Africa for years to come.