TOPICS > Politics

Zimbabwe Court Deals Major Blow to Opposition Party

April 14, 2008 at 6:25 PM EDT
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On Monday, Zimbabwe's highest court refused to order the release of presidential election results -- dealing a blow to the opposition party, which says its leader defeated President Robert Mugabe in the vote. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton provides an update from Harare.
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MARGARET WARNER: Today’s court decision in Zimbabwe refusing to order the release of delayed election results prolongs the political stalemate there.

In an election two weeks ago, the opposition party won a majority of the parliamentary seats, but the presidential election results are still being withheld by the electoral commission, pending what it called “verification.”

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he won the presidential contest against President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years. In the meantime, the opposition says many of its supporters have been attacked or arrested since the voting took place.

For more on the situation in Zimbabwe, we turn to Ofeibea Quist-Arcton of National Public Radio. She’s in Harare.

And, Ofeibea, thank you for being with us. What’s been the reaction today to this court ruling?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, National Public Radio: From the opposition, huge disappointment, because they thought that, if the judge ruled in their favor, the electoral commission would be forced to release the outcome of the presidential vote, now 16 days after Zimbabweans went to vote.

So I think Zimbabweans also feel let down. The whole country is in political paralysis, in a limbo waiting for these wretched results, and for everybody wanting to know who their new leader will be and, if it’s not going to be in this round, whether there is going to be a run-off vote.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, so if the courts offer no recourse, what does the opposition do? What levers does it have left?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Well, what it says is it’s calling a strike. It’s calling it a stay-away. It wants all workers to stay away tomorrow in protest of what it says are delaying tactics by President Robert Mugabe’s government, they say because the government wants to manipulate the vote, wants to tamper with the results, and wants to rig the election.

But let me tell you that Zimbabweans are so desperate and so poor and the economy is in such a state that many can’t even afford to stay away from work, because there’s 80 percent unemployment. The few who are working are looking after very many people, so I’m sure Zimbabweans will be in two minds about following the opposition’s call for a stay-away or going to work so that they can earn a day’s wage.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, why haven’t we seen supporters of the opposition candidate in the streets protesting and rioting over this the way, say, we’ve seen elsewhere on the continent, for instance, in Kenya, when the opposition felt that an election was being stolen from them?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: You know what one Zimbabwean opposition leader said? He said Zimbabweans do not have violence in their DNA, that President Robert Mugabe is trying to provoke them to take to the streets to protest violently so that he can crack down on them.

He said that is not the natural instinct of a Zimbabwean. They want the vote that they went to cast in the ballot two weeks ago counted and counted honestly, but that patience is running out.

But he’s saying that people should not get violent, because that will give the government an opportunity and an excuse to lay into them and to brutalize the nation.

They’ve already said that the authorities have unleashed a campaign of violence, intimidation, and fear to build up to a climate of fear in case there is a second round. The opposition is warning Zimbabweans against that.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, is there any talk within the opposition that perhaps it should take part in another round of elections, as the Mugabe government has suggested?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: The opposition says Morgan Tsvangirai won outright in the first round, and they’re not going to — they are not going to stand in a second round run-off. But, of course, the election commission has not announced the formal results, so nobody really knows what’s going on.

And it’s been a war of words between the opposition, the electoral commission, and the government, everybody waiting for this court ruling, which came today. So now everybody will have to wait for the outcome of the vote.

But when will that be? The electoral commission said it couldn’t comment because it was waiting for the court ruling.

Everybody’s life is in a hiatus. Everybody’s life has been put on hold because of this. And it’s a terrible state here in Zimbabwe, because people don’t know what the future holds.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, have reporters like yourself and independent authorities been able to verify the claims by the opposition that, in fact, there is violence and intimidation being used against their supporters in parts of the country?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: It’s very hard, because this is a country where virtually nothing is working, because there’s a lack of fuel, there’s a lack of food, there’s a lack of everything. So to try and leave the capital to go and verify these things is difficult.

But reports are coming in that those in areas that voted for the opposition are beginning to feel retribution by government-sponsored thugs or government supporters. But it’s very difficult to verify and consolidate the information from the opposition.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, there had been high hopes that this past weekend, when there was a meeting of — an emergency meeting of regional leaders, regional African leaders in Zambia, that somehow they would intercede. Did anything come of that?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: A very limp declaration which made absolutely no demands on President Robert Mugabe. The feeling here in this region is that because Mugabe is the veteran, the doyen of southern Africa, he fought a liberation war, he helped others in the region to fight their liberation wars, that people feel it’s difficult to read him the riot act and to rap his knuckles, so he got away with nothing being demanded of him.

The opposition was very disappointed because they feel that the region is suffering, the economy that is in meltdown here in Zimbabwe is affecting other countries, because millions of Zimbabweans are crossing the border into Zambia, into South Africa, into Botswana, into the neighboring countries, looking for jobs and a better life.

So they feel that the leaders have let them down by not saying to the old man of the region, “It’s time to step down. It’s time for a change.” That’s what Zimbabweans want.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, clearly, more chapters to come in this saga. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, thank you so much for being with us.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.