The presidential runoff between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will be held by July 31, election officials said — but the opposition has insisted that it should be next week.
An official government notice issued late on Wednesday extended the deadline for holding the runoff to 90 days — beyond the legally required 21 days — after the release of election results, the Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, reported on Thursday.
Tendai Biti, secretary-general for Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, called that decision “irresponsible.”
“This country cannot afford 90 days” of more violence and instability and deteriorating economic conditions, he said on Thursday.
The electoral commission notice said Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa is empowered under election laws to extend the original 21-day period for a runoff to 90 days. The original 21 days would end May 24. The opposition has called for a runoff on May 23.
Tsvangirai claims he won the March 29 presidential race outright, beating Mugabe and two other candidates. But official results released on May 2, more than a month after the poll, show he did not win enough votes to avoid a second round against Mugabe.
The opposition and local and international human rights groups have accused Mugabe’s party of using delays to mount a campaign of violence and intimidation against opposition supporters.
Biti, speaking to reporters in Johannesburg, South Africa, said violence was intensifying and now affecting “some of the key pillars of our structure.” His party said in a statement on Thursday that 33 of its supporters and activists had been killed in postelection violence.
In a statement on Thursday, Amnesty International Zimbabwe researcher Simeon Mawanza expressed particular concern about people in remote rural areas.
“The situation for these victims of violence is dire,” Mawanza said. “Humanitarian organizations and local non-governmental organizations are being targeted for helping victims, who are being blocked from receiving medical assistance.”
Biti called on the Southern African Development Community to hold an emergency summit to address the opposition’s call for a runoff by May 23 and for the regional organization to guarantee security, fairness and freedom of the vote.
He noted recent attacks on Zimbabweans and other foreigners in South Africa, saying they had shown Zimbabwe’s turmoil was a regional issue.
He said the opposition remained determined to participate in the runoff. He also said he and Tsvangirai would soon be returning to Zimbabwe.
Biti noted that this weekend, his party planned a campaign rally and a caucus of members elected to parliament, indicating Tsvangirai would be in Zimbabwe for those events. He said he would return some time after Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai’s party won control of parliament in legislative elections held alongside the presidential vote. It was the first time since independence that Mugabe’s party lost control of parliament.
The US State Department reiterated its call for a free and fair vote.
“It will be up to us, as well as, in particular, friends and neighbors of Zimbabwe in the region, to keep the pressure on the Zimbabwean electoral commission and officials in Zimbabwe to create the atmosphere that will allow for a free and fair runoff,” spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.