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Church-backed NGOs fear Mugabe will steal Zimbabwe election


Some church-backed non governmental organizations and church groupings are calling for action to stop what some observers say is an attempt by President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party to steal power following the country’s 29 March polls.

Both the Christian Alliance and the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a network of civil society, church and political parties, issued statements urging the government-appointed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to announce the results of the elections as a matter of urgency.

The World Council of Churches, which told the United Nations it would monitor the elections through its member churches in Africa, had not yet made a statement by 1 April. Many of Zimbabwe’s 12 million people follow Christianity and churches played a critical role in the independence struggle of the southern African nation.

The Zimbabwe Christian Alliance said on 1 April that in order to avoid further distress and to calm all citizens, the electoral commission and other relevant authorities should immediately release the results now available.

"Any further delay could lead to unpredictable and undesirable behaviour by citizens as they continue to rely on unofficial results," said the Christian Alliance in a statement read out by former Methodist bishop, Levy Kadenge. "Continued silence is tantamount to tacit endorsement of such unofficial results."

He noted, "With Kenya’s violence so fresh in our minds, it is not acceptable to delay the timely announcement of results as if to provoke the already highly-charged electorate. It’s extremely urgent that ZEC announces all the results immediately."

Speaking before the poll, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu underlined the need for free and fair elections. "Knowing the extent of intimidation that preceded the elections, I hope observers would be able to guarantee that elections were credible," said Tutu.

Separately, four international development agencies called for immediate action to stop what they said appears to impartial observers as government-led election rigging of the presidential, parliamentary and local elections, which were all held on the same day.

The agencies – Tearfund, which is Christian-backed, Progressio, Trócaire, an Irish Roman Catholic charity, and the Swiss-based Foundation for Development and Partnership in Africa – said they were concerned about the slow release of election results.

The agencies cited as some of their concerns: 

* In some cases, officially-announced votes do not appear to be tallying with those registered and displayed at polling stations; 
* It had taken more than 30 hours to collate and begin to announce the first election results, which had already been posted on boards outside polling stations; 
* The pace of announcement had been painfully slow. By 4 p.m. on 1 April the government appointed Electoral Commission had announced parliamentary poll results for only 131 out of 210 constituencies. Results for senatorial and presidential polls were still pending; 
* The delay in announcing results and the failure of the electoral commission to satisfactorily explain the delays to the general public is contributing to tensions and could lead to a situation of instability in the country; 
* The Southern African Development Community had already issued its statement on the elections. According to the SADC guidelines, observers monitoring elections are obliged to issue a statement on "conduct and outcome". * The SADC observer mission issued a statement on the conduct of the elections on 30 March and then declared its work finished.

The development groups urged southern African leaders to ensure that the SADC observer mission fulfil its obligations to the people of Zimbabwe by following through on assessing the counting process and on the declared outcome of the polls.

They urged an SADC investigation about the allegations of fraud made by independent analysts and observers, in particular relating to the delay in announcing the results. The agencies also called on African Union and national leaders to be prepared to lead a process of mediation in the event of a disputed election outcome.

Ecumenical News International