GOVERNEMNT is preparing for the presidential election run-off next month as pressure mounts daily for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to release results of the poll held over three weeks ago.
The run-off, to be held within the first three weeks of May, would mean that Zimbabweâ€™s elections have taken nearly five months to finish.
Preparations for the current incomplete elections started in January with the proclamation of the dates of nomination of candidates and are still in progress.
The process is likely to be concluded at the end of May, setting a record in the recent electoral history of the region.
Although President Robert Mugabe lost to main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, there appears to be no outright winner. Tsvangirai insists he won outright.
This has necessitated the run-off which Mugabe has so far managed to avoid by demanding a recount of votes, claiming to have been cheated.
Mugabeâ€™s regime has arrested electoral officers it claims were paid to rig the elections for Tsvangirai and the MDC.
The cases are however failing to stick in the courts.
Ballot recounts in 23 constituencies cover the presidential, parliamentary, senate and municipal elections.
They do not deal with the whole country but only those constituencies where Mugabe and his defeated Zanu PF have lodged complaints of fraud.
While ZEC was initially expected to have finished the recounting which began on Saturday by Tuesday, sources said it was likely to end at the weekend when results of the presidential election and recounts are likely to be announced.
After that the date of the run-off would be set. Sources said possible dates for the run-off are May 17 or 24.
Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said in an interview this week that the run-off was coming soon.
â€œWe are preparing for the run-off, but I donâ€™t know when it would be coming.
We expected that immediately after the recounts, only in the 23 constituencies new results would be announced and the run-off would follow,â€ he said.
â€œOur understanding is that the run-off will come 21 days after all results have been announced.
An election is a process with different stages and this includes an announcement of the final results. This means the 21-day period for the run-off will start counting after final results are out.â€
Zimbabwe has postponed the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa Summit slated for Victoria Falls next month to accommodate the run-off, sources said.
Foreign Affairs secretary Joey Bimha said new dates of the summit would be announced after the necessary consultations had been made.
â€œDue to the necessity to fulfil constitutional requirements as a result of recently-held elections, the government of Zimbabwe has decided to postpone convening of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa summit to a later date,â€ he said.
â€œThis follows realisation that the original summit dates might coincide with the uncompleted electoral process.â€Â
The summit was supposed to have been held from May 5 to 15, but this would coincide with the run-off.
Tsvangirai has given conflicting signals on whether he would contest the run-off which is expected to be bruising, but if he boycotts Mugabe would be declared winner.
The MDC says Mugabe has already unleashed instruments of violence to influence the run-off result.
Chinamasa said Zanu PF was ready for the run-off and it would fight to win. â€œWe are ready and we will win,â€ he said. â€œThe MDC is busy on a propaganda mission instead of campaigning. Itâ€™s claiming that there is violence and its supporters have been killed, but has failed to give us the evidence. They want to create a situation which justifies international intervention.â€
The MDC has said 10 of its supporters have been killed by state agents and hundreds arrested and displaced.
Government denies the allegations. â€œThe MDC is just lying. Iâ€™m right now reading one of their documents about violence but it has no names, dates and places where these alleged atrocities occurred.
But Iâ€™m not surprised because itâ€™s just propaganda,â€ Chinamasa said. â€œLet the MDC prove its claims.â€
MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa yesterday said Chinamasa was â€œtrying to defend the indefensibleâ€.
â€œWe have given them detailed information on violence and killings.
Chinamasa knows that; he is just lying to the whole world.â€
By Dumisani Muleya