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Zimbabwe Still Awaiting Election Results


I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, we will speak with the U.N. special representative to the Democratic Republic of the Congo about efforts to help stabilize the county years after its civil war ended. But first to Zimbabwe, where the country is still awaiting the results of presidential elections held 19 days ago. Was the winner incumbent Robert Mugabe, who's led the country for the last 28 years, or opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who says he won? The international community is increasingly concerned. The foreign ministers of a group of eight industrialized nations today expressed deep concern about the situation and call for the release of the results. Joining us for the latest from Zimbabwe is NPR's West Africa Correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She joins us from Harare, the capital. Welcome. Thanks so much, Ofeibea.



MARTIN: So, what's the latest? Any idea about when these results might be released?

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely no idea. Tomorrow is Zimbabwe's 28th independence anniversary, and that's when President Robert Mugabe normally speaks. Nobody's expecting the results before then. But whether it might be Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, absolutely no idea. The electoral commission has said it is going through what it calls meticulous verification of the results. Now, what the opposition candidates who took part in this election now - what? Nineteen days ago? More than three weeks, almost three weeks ago, is saying, but where is this verification taking place? Because the electoral commission had a base, but they've completely closed up shop there. So where is this happening, and why aren't we being allowed to observe this meticulous recount, if that's what going on?

MARTIN: There have been reports that the government is tightening security, and opposition leaders say that they are in fact harassing opposition supporters. Evidence of that?

QUIST-ARCTON: Here in Harare, I have to say things are just totally quiet. Earlier on in the week, there were definitely riot police being deployed throughout the city. But the opposition says what's happening is happening mainly in the rural areas, that there's a campaign of intimidation, of violence, putting fear into the people, and especially in areas that voted for the opposition. That there's a campaign of retribution.

The government, on the other side, accuses the opposition of putting out gangs of thugs. So, you know, there's a steam bath. There's sort of to-and-fro and war of words and no results. And Zimbabweans, meanwhile, are waiting in a limbo. You know, struggling to make ends meet. I mean, things are very difficult. This is a country that has shortages of food, of fuel, of corn exchange, of virtually everything. So there was - they want their vote to count. Meanwhile, they're just carrying on with their lives, trying to make ends meet.


MARTIN: There was a meeting in New York yesterday between the U.N. Security Council and African leaders. And I understand that Zimbabwe wasn't even on the agenda. Is that right?

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely not. It was actually meant to be a U.N. Security Council meeting and the African Unity talking about the security situations in the country. So many people are saying, well, how can Zimbabwe not be on the agenda? But that - President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, who's chairing the Security Council at the moment, said that was not why the meeting was called. Now, there were other leaders, including the head of The African Union, who did mention Zimbabwe, and of course, the Western leaders. Because they have been pushing for the release of the results and putting more and more pressure on the authorities here.

So you have Washington ambassador to the U.N. urging for an urgent release of the results, and this isn't the first time the U.S. has said that. And then the British Prime Minister - and Britain being the former colonial power, Gordon Brown going a step further, and saying, everybody knows that President Mugabe did not win these results and he doesn't want to see a stolen vote.

In a way, when the West speaks, it's counterproductive, I have to say, Michel, because President Mugabe has blamed hostile Western governments, shrill trumpets of imperialism and the running dog of near colonialism, for the problems in his country. He says it's because of what he sanctions against Zimbabwe that the country is going through economic woes. So when the West speaks, he bristles. So a lot of Zimbabweans want the region, Southern Africa, to be the one that says to this old man of the region, this former hero of the liberation struggle, that perhaps it's time for you to step aside. ..TEXT: MARTIN: And finally, how is Mr. Mbeki, Thabo Mbeki, responding to the criticism that he has taken far too soft a line with Mr. Mugabe? ..TEXT: QUIST-ARCTON: He was here at the weekend. He came through Harare on his way to a regional summit, the Southern African regional summit in neighboring Zambia. Many people said he was there to try and convince President Robert Mugabe to go. He didn't. He said he was dealing with other business. But right here, President Mbeki was asked the question, do you think there's a crisis here in Zimbabwe? He said, no. Let the electoral process go through its pieces, and everybody should patiently wait for the results.

The Southern African leaders met for 12 hours, which shows there must have been dissent, people who were not agreeing with President Mbeki. But in the end, they came out with a limp declaration saying everybody should respect the outcome of the vote and the electoral commission should get on with it. This is what? Almost a week later, and still no results. This country is in limbo.

MARTIN: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joined us on the line from Harare, Zimbabwe. Ofeibea, thanks so much, and do keep us posted.


MARTIN: This just in. We've learned that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said it's time for Africa, Zimbabwe's neighbors, to step up. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.