LUSAKA, Zambia — Southern African leaders discussed Zimbabwe’s
deepening electoral crisis at a marathon 12-hour summit that ended
before dawn last Sunday with a weak declaration and marked failure to
criticize the absent President Robert Mugabe.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who claims to have won the March 29 election outright, had wanted the leaders to press Mugabe to resign after 28 years as Zimbabwe’s leader.
Western powers, the United Nations and regional church, democracy and human rights groups had called for the meeting to demand an immediate announcement of the long-delayed election results.
Instead, a summit declaration called for the expeditious verification of results in the presence of the candidates or their agents “within the rule of law.” The declaration also urged “all parties to accept the results when they are announced.”
Independent tallies indicate Mugabe lost, but garnered enough votes to force a runoff.
The summit promised to send observers if there was a second round of elections. The team it sent in March was led by a junior minister from Angola, a country that has not held elections since 1992.
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa had called the emergency summit at 48 hours’ notice. Afterward, his foreign affairs minister told reporters there was no crisis in Zimbabwe, echoing statements made by South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki.
Mbeki’s policy of “quiet diplomacy” on Zimbabwe has been likened to appeasement that allows Mugabe to continue his autocratic rule unimpeded. The Southern African Development Community, which held the summit, has been accused of pandering to Mugabe.
“We listened to both parties, the opposition and the government, and both have said there is no crisis,” said Zambian Foreign Affairs Minister Kabinga Pande.
Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change Party (MDC) denied that was what it said. Tsvangirai hurriedly left the summit four hours before it closed and did not return as promised.
MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti repeated charges that Mugabe has orchestrated a campaign of violence to intimidate opponents who voted against him, with allegations of beatings and burnings of huts corroborated by rights groups.
“The very fact that they had the guts to actually hold this extraordinary summit acknowledges that things are not right in Zimbabwe,” Biti said.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said it would conduct a full recount of the presidential and parliamentary ballots cast in 23 of Zimbabwe’s 210 constituencies on April 19, the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper reported. Commission chairman George Chiweshe said candidates, party representatives and observers would be allowed to witness the process, the paper said. Mugabe’s party had demanded a recount, even without results of presidential elections announced.
The recount could be enough to overturn the opposition’s takeover of the national assembly.
Pande said the summit could not demand election results while Zimbabwe’s High Court is considering an opposition application asking a judge to order the immediate publication of results. The court, stacked with judges loyal to Mugabe, has dallied over the urgent appeal.
Zimbabwean government spokesman Bright Matonga called the summit’s statement “fair.”
“You’ve got to respect each member’s sovereignty,” he said in a phone interview from Harare. “There is a court process that we follow. What we are doing is within the law.”
There was no comment from Mugabe or the three ministers he sent to represent him at the summit.
Mugabe’s allies indicated last Saturday’s summit was part of a Western plot to overthrow him because of his land reform program, touted as an effort to redistribute the wide swathes of fertile land owned by the tiny white community to poor blacks. Instead, farms went to Mugabe’s relatives, friends and cronies.
With Mugabe on the defensive after the election, ruling party officials have encouraged militants to invade the country’s few remaining white-owned farms and some owned by black opponents, saying they were trying to protect Zimbabweans from encroaching colonialism.
Opposition officials say such attacks are a smoke screen for assaults on opposition supporters.
Matonga dismissed the charges, saying there was no violence or intimidation whatsoever.
In the Sunday Mail, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu denied opposition claims that a type of martial law had taken hold.
“The army will not fight against Zimbabweans because it is there to protect them,” he said.
Associated Press writers Joseph J. Schatz in Lusaka, and Angus Shaw in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed to this report.