1 April 2008

Zimbabwe: Church Aid Groups Raise Alarm Over Apparent Rigging

Harare — As Zimbabweans anxiously awaited the final result of Saturday's election, international Christian agencies called for immediate action to stop what appeared to independent observers as government-led rigging.

Catholic agencies Trócaire, Progressio, the Christian charity, Tearfund, and the Swiss-based Foundation for Development and Partnership in Africa expressed concern on Monday over the slow release of election results, which as Noel Kututwa, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network said "is fuelling speculation that there could be something going on". Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African Parliamentary Observer Mission, also expressed concern over the delay.

The agencies also quoted Pastor Promise of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance as saying that the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) principles and guidelines governing democratic elections stipulate that counting of votes shall be done at the polling stations.

"This was done and completed yet ZEC is withholding the results which are already public knowledge as they were posted outside each polling station. 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."

The four agencies said it concerned them that in some cases, officially announced votes did not appear to be tallying with those registered and displayed at polling stations.

In addition, it had taken over 30 hours to collate and begin to announce election results, which had been posted up outside polling stations two days before.

The pace of announcement had been painfully slow, the organisations said. By 3 PM on Monday, ZEC had announced parliamentary results for only 30 out of the 210 constituencies.

"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 agencies said.

They urged African, and especially southern Africa, leaders, to ensure that the regional body SADC observer mission fulfilled its obligations to the people of Zimbabwe by following through with the assessment of the counting process and declared outcome of the polls.

"There should be an SADC investigation and response to the allegations of fraud made by independent outside and domestic analysts and observers, in particular with respect to why the announcement of results was delayed when polling stations results were already reported."

African Union and national leaders should be prepared to lead a process of mediation in the event of a disputed outcome, the agencies said, adding that the UK, Ireland, European Union and member states should encourage African leaders to insist that the SADC principles are rigorously followed, particularly in ensuring that the results announced reflect the will of the people.

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