Robert Mugabe Bans Zimbabwe Political Rallies

Peta Thornycroft, London Telegraph, April 11, 2008

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has banned all political rallies in the aftermath of the country’s disputed general election.

The opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has claimed victory in the poll, but full results have still not been announced amid evidence of vote-rigging.

“We see no reason for rallies since we have had elections,” said police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena.

The first solid evidence of ballot rigging in the election emerged when a senior policeman told The Daily Telegraph that officers marked extra votes for Mr Mugabe.

Almost two weeks after polling day, the official result has still not been announced. Independent monitors say that Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, came first.

But the regime’s critics believe that the Electoral Commission—chaired by George Chiweshe, a judge and close ally of the president—will announce that Mr Mugabe is leading, although probably falling below the 50 per cent margin needed to avoid a second round.

“As a party we feel this is a sustained effort on the part of the authorities against people who assist the MDC,” party spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.

“This is an onslaught which is not only happening in the rural areas, but even in the civil service as people who are perceived MDC supporters are being intimidated.”

The MDC said last night that it would boycott a run-off in the presidential poll if one was declared, adding that Mr Tsvangirai won with a share “much higher” than the 50.3 per cent it claimed last week.

The police officer, who cannot be identified for fear of reprisals, saw a number of ballot boxes carried into a room at police headquarters in Harare last weekend, seven days after the election.

Five or six new recruits from Morris Depot, all in uniform, then filled out extra votes for Mr Mugabe. Ballots for Mr Tsvangirai were removed, the officer added, to bolster the president’s share of the vote.

“We were in the corridor and saw the ballot boxes being taken into Room 96,” the officer said. The police headquaters is only about 300 yards from Mr Mugabe’s office in Harare.

“We asked somebody who went in there and saw the trainees filling out the ballot papers. I am not the only one who knows this, there are others. The recruits will do anything they are asked to do. They were all desperate for jobs. If they have to beat people they will do that.”

The officer said that senior police commanders were desperate for 84-year-old Mr Mugabe to hold power to protect their own interests.

The force, he added, was “very, very corrupt because surely we cannot survive on what we earn”. Despite recent salary rises, policemen earn only £10 a week, before tax.

Shortly before the election, the ruling Zanu-PF regime changed the rules to allow police to “assist voters” inside polling stations. The police were also responsible for transmitting the presidential results to the Electoral Commission’s “command centre” in Harare.

Tendai Biti, the secretary-general of the MDC, said the party had evidence of nine million ballot papers being printed before the election, despite Zimbabwe’s registered electorate of only 5.9 million.

Figures from the parliamentary election, held on the same day as the presidential poll, show that some 2.5 million people voted.

Mr Biti said: “They want to re-engineer the results. They have re-stuffed these ballot boxes. An illegitmate government is in place. The failure of the regime in Harare to give in to those who were elected in our view constitutes a constitutional coup d’etat.”

The election crisis will be the subject of an emergency summit of southern African countries in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka, tomorrow. Both Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai could attend, raising the possibility of a public row.

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