Zimbabwe’s post-election crisis intensified yesterday after a high court judge threw out an opposition demand for the immediate release of results for the March 29 presidential polls.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) reacted angrily to the ruling, urging Zimbabweans to show their disgust at the continuing hold-up by launching a general strike from today until the result is released.
“We have called for a mass stay-in, starting tomorrow, until the results are released,” the party’s vice president, Thokhozani Khupe, told reporters.
Dozens of riot police hovered outside the courtroom as Justice Tendai Uchena delivered his ruling, rejecting an MDC petition calling for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to immediately declare the result.
“The matter has been dismissed with costs,” Uchena said.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has already claimed outright victory over President Robert Mugabe in the poll and the party said it was now calling on the public to speak up against the commission.
“What we want is for ZEC to announce the results. We hope every Zimbabwean takes it upon themselves to speak out and be heard. Voting alone was not enough. We want our results, the time has come,” said Khupe.
The ruling was welcomed by Mugabe’s camp with his justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, saying it would have made no sense to order ZEC to release the results before they were ready.
“We are not surprised that the court has dismissed the application. We knew from the outset that application by the MDC had no merit,” he told reporters.
“How can you force the electoral commission to release results when it is not ready?”
The court rejected the opposition demand and accepted the election commission’s explanation that it was investigating anomalies in some of the voting districts, calling it “legally valid” in its ruling.
“It can therefore justify the delay.”
The commission “has not strayed from the law,” the ruling said.
Opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the party – which has refrained from holding major protests in recent weeks – would stage a nationwide strike today.
“It’s a very sad day in Zimbabwe,” MDC lawyer Andrew Makoni said. The court “has given the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission a blank check. We don’t know when the ZEC will be ready with results. We don’t know what specific time would be reasonable in the eyes of the court.”
Government spokesman Bright Matonga said the ruling was “the right judgment” because it allows the electoral commission to complete a thorough review of results. He dismissed charges that the court is biased toward the ruling party, arguing that the opposition was willing to apply to the court because it expected an impartial ruling.
“The electoral commission should be allowed to do its job,” Matonga said.
The commission’s offices have been shut since last week. The electoral commission has said vote processing was continuing at a separate location, but the opposition and local rights groups charge that ballots are not being processed.
“The verification, from what we understand, has not even begun,” Irene Petras, head of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, told reporters in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Petras said that if there is another counting centre, no one except the ruling party appears to have been let in.
“The political parties have been told they could not be part of the process,” she said.
The ruling is a double blow to the opposition after a summit of southern African leaders in Zambia at the weekend merely called for the results to be announced “expeditiously”, saying the matter should be decided by the courts.
The impact of any general strike is likely to be muted as unemployment is already running at more than 80 percent.
Previous stay-aways called by the opposition and its allies in the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions have flopped, with few of the people still in work not wanting to risk losing a day’s pay.
However, the opposition is aware that Mugabe still exerts an iron grip over the security forces and is wary of sending its supporters on to the streets to protest the current impasse. Police have anyway banned all political rallies.
Flyers handed out since the MDC first threatened on Friday to stage the general strike have called on everyone from bus drivers to street vendors to join in.
“The power is in our hands. Zimbabweans have been taken for granted for too long. We demand that the presidential election results be announced now.”
At Saturday’s emergency summit in Lusaka, regional leaders discussed the post-election impasse long into the night, but they stopped short of criticising the Zimbabwean government or Mugabe, who was not even mentioned in a four-page joint statement.
Regional leaders have been chided for their traditional reluctance to speak out against 84-year-old Mugabe, seen by many as an elder statesman who still deserves respect for his role in winning Zimbabwe’s independence.
Tsvangirai, still trying to drum up regional support to keep the pressure on Mugabe, was in Zimbabwe’s eastern neighbour Mozambique yesterday. Sources said that he was to meet Mozambican opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama.
No meetings, however, had so far been held with President Armando Guebuza. – Nampa-AFP-AP