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Zimbabwe Election Crisis Drags On

TONY COX, host:

From NPR News, this is News & Notes. I'm Tony Cox, in for Farai Chideya. An update on the political crisis in Zimbabwe. It's a day short of two weeks since Zimbabweans went to the polls. The results of the presidential elections still have not been released. President Robert Mugabe's party is talking about a runoff vote, but opposition Morgan Tsvangirai says he won't take part in a second round. The delay is causing tension and anxiety.

For the latest, NPR's Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us from Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. Hi, Ofeibea.



COX: There have been some developments over the last 24 hours. What's the latest now?

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed, in fact, even over the last few hours. What we're hearing - and this really is hot off the presses, I haven't even been able to confirm it - is that the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, is calling for a strike next week. I'm told that leaflets are being handed around town saying that there should be a strike next week, and this is clearly in protest of the delay in the release of the presidential elections.

The high court, by the way, the judge who is hearing the opposition's petition to have these results released urgently, is meant to be ruling on Monday.

COX: Do you know why we hadn't gotten the results before now?


QUIST-ARCTON: Ha! Tony, if I knew that, I would be a very wealthy woman. You know, it depends who you talk to. On the government's side, they're saying there has to meticulous, and this is a word we keep hearing, meticulous verification of the results. The government party, President Mugabe's ZANU-PF, has also alleged irregularities and misconduct in how the vote was carried out. And in fact, some election officials have even been arrested apparently for undercounting up to 5,000 votes in Mugabe's favor.

If you talk to the opposition, they're saying that the authorities are delaying the release of the outcome of the presidential vote because they are mounting a campaign of violence, of intimidation, and trying to stoke up fear amongst the people, because they say there's going to be runoff elections. The opposition says it won outright in the first round. So it depends who you speak to. And the election commission, the very body that's meant to give the results, isn't talking at all.

COX: Ofeibea, I understood that there was to be some sort of meeting in Zambia this weekend to try to resolve the crisis, but something has happened to change who may and may not attend that meeting. What can you tell us about that?

QUIST-ARCTON: What we definitely know is that the Southern African Development Community, SADC, has called an emergency meeting of its leaders. It's a 14-member grouping including Zimbabwe. At first, we thought that President Robert Mugabe would be attending, but state radio here in Harare has said that he won't be going. And then, you can sort of look at that different ways. Is that because he is waiting for the region to decide what it feels it has to do to resolve the situation? Or is he going to speak to them from abroad?

But we're told that Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, will be going there, and his views are very, very clear. The region is clearly worried. Zimbabwe is a country in economic meltdown. And of course, because unemployment is so high, inflation running at way over 100,000 percent, 100,000 percent, it's the neighbors that are having to take the influx of Zimbabweans, of course, looking for a better life, looking for jobs. They are the ones who are dealing with the exiles and the migrants.

But the question is, and the question many Zimbabweans are asking, is what is this regional grouping going to do? When last year, President Mugabe's security forces bashed, and that's the word he used, bashed the opposition so that opposition supporters had to go to hospital, President Mugabe went off to a regional meeting in Tanzania and virtually nothing was said, and he came out looking pretty gleeful. So Zimbabweans want the region to act, and the opposition wants these regional leaders to tell President Mugabe you lost this poll. It's time for you to go. You're 84, an honorable, graceful exit is what you should be considering. But we'll have to see what they decide.

COX: To follow up on that last question, Ofeibea, if Mugabe refuses to leave office and if the results show that he, in fact, did lose the election, what can and will foreign countries or agencies do, do you think, in terms of trying to get him to step down?

QUIST-ARCTON: Tony, we haven't even got to that stage yet. The government is saying that no one candidate got more than 50 plus one percent of the vote, so there's going to be a runoff vote. The opposition is saying it won outright. The election commission is not announcing results, so this is a catch-22. We can't even get to those possibilities, but certainly the outside world is concerned. Britain, the former colonial power, and President Mugabe absolutely vilifies London and Washington - says that they are meddling in Zimbabwe's internal affairs, but they are concerned.

And most people are saying the most important thing is that the will of the Zimbabwean people who went to vote must be respected. But until there is an election result, whether President Mugabe won or lost, the fact is they say there's going to be a runoff. Until we know for sure, until there's something definitive from the election commission, everything is in limbo.

COX: NPR Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton speaking with us from Harare, Zimbabwe. Ofeibea, thank you very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.