International unease mounted yesterday over the re-election of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in polls denounced by Zimbabwe’s opposition as “stolen.”
Mugabe, 89, in power since 1980, trounced his long-standing rival, Zimbabwean Morgan Tsvangirai in Wednesday’s polls with 61 percent of the presidential vote while his party swept to a crushing parliamentary majority.
However, Tsvangirai, who has unsuccessfully tried to unseat Mugabe three times, condemned the vote as “fraudulent and stolen” and has vowed to challenge it.
Western powers have voiced serious doubts about the polls following concerns over irregularities.
Yesterday, Germany said the election “casts a big shadow on the political and economic future of Zimbabwe,” while Australia called for new polls.
“Given our doubts about the results, Australia calls for a re-run of the elections based on a verified and agreed voters roll,” Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said in a statement.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday described the election as “deeply flawed” and said Washington “does not believe that the results ... today represent a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague added his own “grave concerns” over the conduct of the vote in the former colony.
Observers raised concerns over the availability of the voters roll, the printing of extra ballot papers and the turning away of voters at polling stations.
With kinder assessments from African observers who nonetheless noted the flaws, South African President Jacob Zuma offered his “profound congratulations” to Mugabe yesterday.
“President Zuma urges all political parties in Zimbabwe to accept the outcome of the elections as election observers reported it to be an expression of the will of the people,” a South African foreign ministry statement said.
The reaction in Zimbabwe’s press yesterday was starkly divided, with state-controlled newspaper the Herald proclaiming “President Mugabe romps to victory,” while the independent Daily News headlined, “It’s a Crisis.”
The vote marks the end of a tense compromise government between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, forced by bloodstained 2008 polls, that helped steer the isolated nation out of a protracted crisis.
In the Harare township of Mbare yesterday, Mugabe supporters carried a coffin draped in a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) flag, with a knotted scarf placed on top with the inscription “RIP Morgan.”
Some carried shovels chanting that they were going to bury Tvangirai’s party.
“People are elated,” said one of the marchers, Tatenda Savanhu, 26, an economist. “It’s really a moment of joy that the GNU [coalition government] is now gone that we are going into an era of ZANU-PF.”
Tsvangirai vowed to challenge the result in court and said the MDC would boycott government institutions.