Mugabe's big bash

HARARE - President-elect Robert Mugabe will be sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president today at the National Sports Stadium at a ceremony to be attended by several foreign leaders.

Mugabe is desperate for a massive inauguration especially after his win was marred by allegations of vote rigging and after a withdrawal to the poll court challenge took some of the heat out of a dispute over his re-election.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) announced after the controversial poll that the 89-year-old former guerrilla leader beat opposition challenger Morgan Tsvangirai in the July 31 vote, whose challenge to the election fell through after the Constitutional Court okayed the inauguration.

The court ruled that the poll was “free, fair and credible”.

Mugabe accused Tsvangirai of being a bad loser, though the opposition says Mugabe used his allies in the region and local sympathisers to legitimise the disputed results.

“We have set Thursday as the day for inauguration,” Mugabe said in a televised speech soon after his arrival from the Sadc summit on Sunday.

“That’s when I will take the oath, which will be followed by a careful consideration of the names of people you voted, the people you saw fit to lead you in Parliament. That’s where we will pick the ministers.”

Mugabe had just attended a scheduled meeting of southern African leaders in Malawi’s capital to discuss the situation.

Just after arriving from Lilongwe with a ringing endorsement from regional leaders, Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court insisted on hearing Tsvangirai’s poll challenge that he had withdrawn, brushing aside allegations of vote fraud.

“The Zimbabwe presidential election held on 31st July, 2013 was in accordance with the laws of Zimbabwe,” Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said on Tuesday.

“The said election was free, fair and credible.”

Tsvangirai, who insists the opposition’s figures show he won, rejected the decision adding he was boycotting Mugabe’s inauguration at the 60 000-seater National Sports Stadium.

Deputy chief secretary to the President and Cabinet Ray Ndhlukula told a Tuesday news conference that Mugabe had decreed that his inauguration day be  declared a national holiday.

Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai’s spokesperson, said his boss would not join people celebrating a stolen election.

Tsvangirai said his supporters must boycott the event in protest at the inauguration, following several days of outrage over the vote.

“Whilst some external and internal institutions have endorsed Robert Mugabe’s fraudulent victory, the people of Zimbabwe whose vote was stolen have certainly not endorsed him,” the MDC said in a statement.

“Mugabe’s inauguration on Thursday is obviously the usual Zanu PF charade of stage managed crowds who are frog marched and railroaded to attend the sham function at the National Sports Stadium.

“With Zanu PF frantically attempting to make tomorrow (today)’s function a grand affair and relive Mugabe’s 1980 victory celebration, tomorrow’s inauguration is nothing but a non-event akin to the 2008 soloist run which is void of any legitimacy.”

In an apparent bid to re-enact Bob Marley’s April 18, 1980 inauguration performance to celebrate Zimbabwe’s independence, a surprise Jamaican star is lined up to perform at Mugabe’s inauguration today together with rhumba icon Koffi Olomide, Amayenge from Zambia, Black Mambazo from South Africa and a number of top local artistes.

Officials said there will be unrestrained feasting and merry-making at the bash, which will be beamed live on State TV.

The inauguration is expected to considerably ease tensions after days of angry allegations by both sides amid escalating fears losers were plotting mass action, with police deployed outside the MDC headquarters Harvest House and the so-called Freedom Square — a potential flash-point.

“Thank God everything is calm,” said construction worker Elias Moyo, 53, sitting on a bench near Africa Unity Square in Harare.

“The opposition lowered tensions, the government as well.”

Mugabe, 89, has received a show of support from several leaders, congratulating him on his victory, and called on both sides to reject violence.

Former and serving heads of state due to attend Mugabe’s inauguration include former heads of State, Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin William Mkapa of Tanzania, who were already in Harare by yesterday.

Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae of Botswana were said to have been invited to the inauguration, together with former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, Namibian founding father Sam Nujoma and Zambia’s Kenneth.

Several regional leaders are expected for the event, while some will send delegations headed by senior officials.

The ceremony is being held in a stadium for the second time since independence and will be followed by a military parade. Jets making practice runs soared over the capital repeatedly yesterday.

The anxiety  in Zimbabwe, just weeks after Mugabe’s “landslide”, has exposed the deep polarisation of a country split down the middle.

Mugabe’s administration accuses “fascist” Tsvangirai supporters of planning opposition demonstrations, a charge he has strenuously denied.

Tsvangirai, who has repeatedly called on his supporters to behave peacefully, has said the government was planning a crackdown and has already ordered an arrest of his lawyers.

“The latest attempt to arrest lawyers who were representing president Tsvangirai in the election petition is most unfortunate and seriously puts to question the credibility and impartiality of our judiciary system,” the MDC said in the statement.

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