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Mugabe Opponents ‘Intimidated’

Aug 12 2013 (IPS) - Voting may have ended in Zimbabwe’s presidential election, but the controversy around the vote has not.

The main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T), filed a petition on Friday, Aug. 9 with the country’s Constitutional Court to declare the election null and void. In the election on Jul. 31, President Robert Mugabe won 61 percent of the 3.4 million votes cast, while Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, head of the MDC-T, won 34 percent. The opposition has asked for fresh polls in 60 days.

In his appeal, MDC-T leader Tsvangirai accused an Israeli firm of rigging the election in favour of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu–PF) and of conniving with the Registrar of Voters and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to manipulate the country’s voters’ roll. The firm was said to have been paid 10 million dollars to do so.

“What is worrying is the involvement of an Israeli firm in the development, management and manipulation of the voters’ roll….,” reads part of the 20-page dossier, which states the name of the firm allegedly involved in the vote-rigging. The petition also states that large numbers of voters were allegedly “assisted” to vote in the presidential election and that in one constituency as many as 10,500 voters out of 17,000 had been assisted. The document also says that about 750,000 voters were reportedly turned away from polling stations.

But analysts here have said the MDC-T knows the court may not rule in its favour.

“Ironically, Morgan Tsvangirai and his party are seeking legal redress from the same court that gave a nod to a Jul. 31 election date when the MDC-T had sought an extension of poll dates. It is doubtful that the same court will this time around rule in their favour,” independent political analyst, Malvern Tigere told IPS.

Political analyst Richard Zizhou told IPS that this southern African nation’s Constitutional Court has been put in a difficult position.

“It’s indeed a trying time for the highest court in the land. MDC-T seems to be in possession of overwhelming evidence that the polls were indeed rigged and if the court rules in favour of MDC-T, Mugabe will be furious,” Zizhou told IPS.

But while the court challenge hangs in the balance, many Zimbabweans suspected of supporting the MDC-T have already been subjected to violence.

Tawanda Chimhini, director of the Elections Resource Centre, an independent civil society organisation that monitors national elections in Zimbabwe, told IPS that his organisation had been inundated with reports of rising cases of intimidation after the elections.

“We have received reports of intimidation… historically there have always been constant cases of intimidation that often follow every election. [It is] a Zanu-PF strategy to deflate members of the opposition parties and vanquish whatever semblance of support the opposition may have,” Chimhini told IPS.

A heavy police presence in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, has done little to make people feel safe. Police have mounted water cannons at the MDC-T headquarters in the city in a move to quell possible protests.

Vendors like 32-year-old Margret Matevura, who is based in the central business district close to the MDC-T headquarters, have expressed fear about the heavily-armed police presence in the capital.

“These police disturb our peace; we are really afraid and our clients are now avoiding using this route because of these cops as they harass anyone who gets near them,” Matevura told IPS.

Those who live in the suburbs have not been safe from intimidation either. Alex Rutsito of Highfield, Harare’s low-income suburb, told IPS that he and his family have been targeted for allegedly “being enemies of Zanu-PF”.

“Two days after the Jul. 31 elections, my home was ransacked by Zanu-PF activists, who accused my family of backing the MDC-T. They beat up all of us mercilessly,” Rutsito told IPS.

Zanu-PF national spokesperson Rugare Gumbo denied the intimidation was perpetrated by members of his party.

“Those are lies peddled by electoral losers. Zanu-PF is now busy moving towards rebuilding the country and we don’t have time to waste on imaginary trivial turfs,” Gumbo told IPS.

Cleto Manjova, programmes officer for rights group Heal Zimbabwe Trust, accused Zanu-PF of perpetrating violence after the election.

“The winners (Zanu-PF) were actually expecting to loose; their win is a surprise to them and they are reaffirming their power … So in most cases they are issuing threats to deal with people who openly campaigned against Zanu-PF in the elections,” Manjova told IPS.

As post-election intimidation worsens, 38 MDC-T supporters who served as polling agents for the election were forced by suspected members of a Zanu-PF militia group, dubbed Chipangano, to leave their homes in Harare’s Mbare high-density suburb.

Analysts say cases of post-election violence were also rife in the countryside.

“It’s unfortunate that the media has restricted itself to the cities where cases of intimidation are less concentrated compared to rural areas where Zanu-PF zealots have gone on rampage intimidating everybody they suspect of being linked to the MDC-T,” independent political analyst Alfred Mhaka told IPS.

The MDC-T’s chief election agent, Morgan Komichi, was arrested on Jul. 28 for allegedly opening a pack of ballot papers without having the necessary authority to do so.

Komichi approached the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on Jul. 25 and handed in an envelope containing a stray paper ballot cast in his MDC-T party’s favour, supporting his party’s claims that the commission had rigged the earlier special voting in Zanu-PF’s favour.

He was denied bail on Aug. 8, after filing an appeal with the high court.

Tjenesani Ntungakwa, programmes advisor of the Revolutionary Research Institute, told IPS that communities countrywide needed to speak out against rising cases of intimidation.

“As long as intimidation is happening secretly, there will be more damage caused in the country … there is no message that these people perpetrating violence can take seriously except from a community. In any case, if Zanu-PF really won the polls, why should there be a need to intimidate the people?” Ntungakwa told IPS.

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