JOHANNESBURG - Zimbabwe’s election is receiving wide criticism after longtime President Robert Mugabe swept the vote in an election the opposition says was rigged.
Australia is calling for a rerun of the poll, and the United States and Britain have said they do not think the results were credible. In neighboring South Africa, Zimbabwean expatriates are reacting to the results with disbelief.
On Monday, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said dozens of its members were arrested a day after the electoral commission announced that longtime President Robert Mugabe trounced challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, winning 61 percent of the vote.
Those reports follow strong expressions of disapproval from the top diplomats of Australia, the United States and Britain. Zimbabwe’s largest poll observer mission also said the poll was “seriously compromised” by multiple irregularities, including problems with voter rolls, vote tampering and voter intimidation.
But the African Union and the Southern African Development Community observation missions considered the poll relatively free and fair, though neither has presented a full report. Rugare Gumbo, a spokesman for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, said the party won honestly.
“These people have to accept that their biggest problem was that they didn’t have a program to offer to the people," Gumbo said. "They were complacent. As ZANU-PF, we went into the field quietly like old typical guerrilla fighters. We started restructuring the party from the bottom, while these people [opposition parties] were complaining or [creating their party] constitution, we were organizing the party, and that’s why we came up on top.”
South African President Jacob Zuma sent Mugabe his “profound congratulations” and said the observers had found the poll to be “an expression of the will of the people.”
That opinion is not shared by many Zimbabwean expatriates in South Africa. Mugabe has few fans among the Zimbabwean community here, which is believed to number two million people. Many of them say he is the reason they fled here and claimed political asylum.
Sox Chikohwero is one of them. The opposition party activist he fled after he was arrested and tortured in 2002. He said Zimbabweans of all persuasions are questioning the results.
“The elections are not free and fair," Chikohwero said. "They’ve tried to force Morgan [Tsvangirai] to accept the results. Morgan has refused, because he’s not talking for himself, he’s talking for the people. And even people in ZANU-PF are surprised where this figure came from. You saw [ZANU-PF chairman] Simon Khaya Moyo commenting after winning so resoundingly, we know how ZANU-PF boasts about winning, but Simon Khaya Moyo was saying, no one is a winner in this election, which means he is also surprised and shocked about the level of winning. The type of rigging, I think they overdid it," he said.
Chikohwero’s concerns are echoed by top Western officials.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he did not believe the outcome “represent[s] a credible expression of the will of the Zimbabwean people." British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he had “grave concerns.” Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is calling for a complete rerun of the poll.
Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai after elections in 2008 turned violent. That coalition has now come to a bitter end.
One thing does appear to be sure: Mugabe, who is now 89 years old, is not a man who is easily defeated. He has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980 and says he is still going strong.