Norway and the European Union on Sunday urged southern African leaders to resolve the political crisis in Zimbabwe as their credibility was at stake.
Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told heads of government of the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), meeting in Mauritius, that “this situation should not be allowed to continue”.
Louis Michel, EU commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, called on SADC to find a solution to the Zimbabwean government’s refusal to accept the initial results of the 29 March elections, in which the opposition won control of parliament, and according to provisional vote returns, President Robert Mugabe also lost his job.
“The dramatic effects [of the crisis] will mainly hit the population of Zimbabwe but they will also hit the whole region,” Michel said at the Mauritius gathering, billed as a ‘Development and Poverty’ summit. “I understand that this is not very easy to do … but this is an issue which is important for [SADC’s] credibility.”
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on Saturday began a recount of ballots in 23 out of 210 constituencies, which could overturn the opposition’s parliamentary majority. The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said the ballot boxes were being stuffed and it would not accept the recount.
The result of the presidential poll has yet to be released, three weeks after voting centres closed. It is expected that ZEC will order a runoff between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, despite a growing climate of fear, in which opposition supporters are reportedly being persecuted by the security forces and militants of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
Zimbabwe was discussed at an extraordinary SADC summit in Zambia on 13 April. Then the region’s leaders called on ZEC to verify and release “expeditiously” the poll results “in compliance with the rule of law” and SADC’s electoral guidelines. Michel said he had been told by heads of government in Mauritius that no further statement would be made before the end of the vote recount.
SADC officials on Sunday repeated that Zimbabwe was not up for discussion; they said the gathering was preoccupied with poverty and development issues, especially in the face of rocketing global food prices.
But Stoltenberg used his address to the summit to slam the Zimbabwean leadership. “The lack of results from the elections casts serious doubt about the willingness of the government to respect the voice of the people,” he told heads of government. “The economic and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, seriously affects the country, its people and the whole region.”
Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Zimbabwe’s foreign minister, leading his
country’s delegation, rejected the criticism. “The vote counting is going fine,” he told IRIN at the sidelines of the conference. “We will announce the results as soon we finish the count.”
He later told reporters: “[The Norwegian Prime Minister] is clearly ill-informed. He is ignorant. Totally ignorant … Zimbabwe is a democracy.”
On Sunday the 53-member African Union urged Zimbabwe to release the election results “without any further delay”, and called for restraint from all parties.