The Southern African Development Community has warned Zimbabwe that it will accept no more excuses from the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission (ZEC) if it fails to release the results of the Zimbabwean presidential elections by Saturday.
SADC sent its observer team back to Harare last week to observe the recount of the 23 disputed constituencies where Zanu-PF claims there were irregularities.
The ballots for the disputed constituencies in presidential, senatorial and parliamentary polls, which took place four weeks ago, are being recounted.
Said a senior SADC observer who asked not to be named: I don’t know why we are recounting — it doesn’t make sense to us.
We are expecting the recount to be done by Saturday, then it will be up to them to announce.
But, really, there is no excuse any more.
Beyond Saturday the SADC would not accept claims that the release of results had been affected by logistical difficulties, the initial pretext, or by disputes, the reason given a week after polling.
And in another warning sign for President Robert Mugabe, Tanzanian President Jikaya Kikwete, also the chairperson of the African Union, has privately said he would be willing to explore the option of convening an African Union summit on the issue, civil society activists in Tanzania told the Mail & Guardian.
This would be a serious slap in the face for President Thabo Mbeki as it would signal that regional mediation efforts have failed.
At a conference convened by the East African Law Society in Dar es Salaam, Mbeki was widely mocked by delegates as “What crisis? Mbeki”.
Conference delegates said Kikwete had mooted the idea of an AU summit to his advisers.
Civil society across Africa is looking to Kikwete — who is known to be critical of Mugabe’s regime — to take a more energetic stance on Zimbabwe after the SADC summit and statement reflecting Mbeki’s softly-softly approach.
A post-conference communique, due to be handed to Kikwete in person, called for AU intervention to supercede the SADC’s efforts.
On Thursday South Africa’s official opposition called on the South African government to press for Zimbabwe’s expulsion from the AU and the imposition of travel sanctions on Zimbabwean government officials entering South Africa, in the manner of the European Union and the United States.
It is understood SADC observers have picked up discrepancies during the recount, because some ballot books have gone missing.
Ballot papers were originally bound in a booklet resembling a cheque book, from which they were torn and given to voters to cast their votes. The stubs are used for verification.
SADC sources said ballot boxes had been moved from locations where the ZEC had stored them to places such as shopping centres, where the counting was done. Party agents brought their own tallies of the original count.
Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said anomalies noted during the recount had resulted in police arresting presiding officers suspected of malpractice.
At one recounting centre three presiding officers had reportedly been arrested.
The ZLHR complained that recounting has been notoriously slow in an environment of increasing anxiety, violence and harassment of perceived supporters of the opposition, with alleged active involvement of senior members of the ruling party.
In further pressure on Zimbabwe’s increasingly besieged ruling party, ANC president Jacob Zuma has thrown his weight behind efforts to deal with the electoral impasse in Zimbabwe. He told Reuters during a visit to Europe this week that leaders in Africa should really move in to unlock this logjam.
Zuma accused the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission of destroying its own credibility by not releasing the results.
MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai this week also broadened his campaign for regional support in the quest to break the impasse.
Tsvangirai is in Ghana, where he met President John Kufuor.
Last week, Tsvangirai asked the SADC to remove Mbeki as mediator in the Zimbabwean crisis.
At least publicly, Zanu-PF is confident that the recount will overturn the opposition’s parliamentary majority.
Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said Zanu-PF is not distracted by the international controversy over the results delay and is preparing for a run-off.
The MDC’s latest position is that it will contest the run-off on condition it is supervised by the SADC.
But many MDC leaders appear to be on the run.
MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the party was setting up safe houses for activists fleeing violence in the countryside.
The party’s headquarters in Harare has become a shelter for dozens of its supporters, who are sleeping in corridors and in offices.