Zimbabwe’s political crisis intensified on Sunday as authorities ordered a partial recount of the votes in last month’s elections, paving the way for President Robert Mugabe to potentially overturn both his party’s and his own apparent defeat by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
By Tony Hawkins in Harare and Alec Russell in Johannesburg
The MDC said on Sunday night it would challenge the recount in court on Tuesday and accuse the state-appointed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission of trying to help Mr Mugabe escape from the biggest threat to his 28-year rule.
The MDC says Morgan Tsvangirai, its leader, won an outright victory in the March 29th presidential election. Independent projections and Zanu-PF’s private figures suggest he may have fallen just short of the clear majority needed to avoid a run-off.
The announcement of the partial recount came in the wake of a meeting of African leaders, who called for the swift release of the presidential results but stopped short of applying concerted pressure on Mr Mugabe. They did not meet the MDC’s requests for them to push for Mr Mugabe to step down.
The ZEC said recounts in 23 parliamentary seats would be held on Saturday April 19. All but one of the recounts are at the request of Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.
Ten days ago the official results released by the ZEC recorded that Zanu-PF had narrowly lost control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980. If all the recounts go against the MDC in the 16 of the 23 recount seats that it won, the opposition party would be left with 83 seats to Zanu-PF’s 113 seats in the 210-member parliament.
The High Court is scheduled on Monday to rule whether the commission should immediately publish the presidential results.
There is a strong possibility that results in at least five of the marginal constituencies that the MDC won, with majorities of only 20 votes in two cases and 112 or less votes in three others, could be overturned. This would still not be enough for Zanu-PF to secure an outright parliamentary majority against all other parties – for this to happen, nine results must be overturned.
These MDC seats could well be at risk since in all of them the opposition’s share of the vote was less than 55 per cent, while in only one of the 23 seats is there a realistic possibility that the MDC will gain from the recount.
With the MDC having lost the momentum it enjoyed in the last days of campaigning and the first few days after the vote, the party is now pinning its hopes on a huge turnout in a strike it has called for Tuesday. The government and its security forces have made clear they will crush efforts to enforce the strike.
Leaders from the Southern African Development Community called for the Harare government to ensure that a run-off would be held in a ”secure environment”.
But MDC officials who have said they will not contest a second round say that the intimidation of Mr Mugabe’s supporters is already ensuring that the MDC has no chance in a run-off.