Opposition declared winner of Zimbabwe elections

By  Bronwen Dachs, Catholic News Service
  • April 3, 2008

{mosimage}CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Southern African church leaders urged Zimbabweans and their leaders to exercise restraint as results of the March 29 presidential and parliamentary elections were announced.

“We appeal to political leaders to pursue the path of peace and to restrain their supporters from violence during his period,” the Regional Faith-Based Initiative said in an April 2 statement from Harare, Zimbabwe. The initiative includes the Interregional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa, the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa and the Association of Evangelicals in Africa.

Zimbabwe’s combined opposition has won a majority in parliament, defeating President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said April 2. No official numbers were released in the presidential vote, in which a candidate needs 50 per cent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, says that its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, has won presidential elections outright with 50.3 per cent of the vote.

The churches expressed their “frustrations and disappointment” that they were barred by the government from observing the elections.

Kabelo Selema, one of more than 100 regional church officials who worked as an election observer, visited polling places in Mutare, an opposition stronghold, despite being denied accreditation by the state.

Despite the risk of arrest, “we felt it was important to be there,” Selema, who heads the justice and peace department for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Pretoria, South Africa, said in an April 2 telephone interview.

No reason was given for the denial of accreditation, he said, noting that he has observed previous elections in Zimbabwe as part of the Interregional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa.

Although voting took place peacefully, “many people we spoke to said it felt very tense with the outcome so critical,” Selema said.

Most voting stations he visited recorded that only up to 45 per cent of those registered turned out to vote, which could indicate intimidation, he said.

International observers cited incidents of ruling-party supporters harassing opposition supporters and bribing rural voters with state-subsidized food.

With “the tension and anxiety” in Zimbabwe as people await election results, Selema and other South Africans returned to Pretoria April 1, earlier than planned, he said.

Several non-governmental organizations, including the Irish Catholic development agency Trocaire, called for a regional probe into international and domestic allegations of electoral fraud.

“With Kenya’s violence so fresh in our minds, it is not acceptable to delay the timely announcement of results as if to provoke the already highly charged electorate,” the organizations said in a statement.

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