U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the election process in Zimbabwe, capped by Thursday's parliamentary voting, was not free and fair. She called on President Robert Mugabe's government to listen to those calling for change.
Ms. Rice's critical judgment on the Zimbabwe elections came late Friday, after officials in Harare announced, amid opposition charges of fraud, that President Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF had won enough seats to guarantee control of parliament.
In a written statement, Secretary of State said while the campaign and election day itself were generally peaceful, the overall process was not free and fair, with the electoral playing field "heavily tilted in the government's favor."
She praised the Zimbabwean people for turning out in great numbers to vote despite years of repression and intimidation, and said the United States applauds their determination to keep democracy alive.
While results are still coming in, she said it is clear that many Zimbabweans have rejected the Mugabe government's failed policies and are calling for change.
M. Rice said she hopes the authorities in Harare will hear and respect those voices. She said the United States calls on the government of Zimbabwe to recognize the legitimacy of the opposition, and to abandon policies designed, she said, to repress, crush and otherwise stifle expressions of differences.
The partial results suggesting a Mugabe victory drew immediate charges of fraud from opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change, and denials of such by Mr. Mugabe.
At a news briefing here, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said there are signs the election was seriously tainted, reinforced by accounts that many of those who sought to vote Thursday were turned back at the polls for various reasons. "We know from information we have been able to, I guess it is official information from the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission, that as many as 10 per cent of the voters were turned away from polling stations when they tried to vote. And there are some indications, I think anecdotal evidence, that voters were disproportionately turned away in districts that might be favoring the opposition. This is just another sign that this whole process has been seriously tainted," he said.
In her statement, Secretary Rice said Zimbabwe's leaders have a responsibility to address the political and economic problems that have wrecked what only a few years ago was one of Africa's success stories.
By restoring democratic institutions and respecting the wishes of its people, she said Zimbabwe can retake its place as an honorable member of the world community.
A senior diplomat here was it was too early to talk about possible implications for the Mugabe government if the election is deemed to have been stolen.
After Mr. Mugabe won re-election in 2002 in polling Western observers said was marred by violence and vote-rigging, the United States and European Union imposed visa restrictions and targeted economic sanctions against the Zimbabwean President, relatives, and close political associates.