Bloody clashes mar historic elections

HARARE - Political analysts yesterday condemned the barbaric violence by suspected MDC supporters and government’s own deployment of soldiers to quell the disturbances which left several people injured amid claims of loss of life.

MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa had on Tuesday claimed poll victory before the results had been announced — in a move which raised fears that the youthful opposition leader’s action — could trigger violence in the country.

It came to pass as suspected MDC supporters looted several shops and burned cars in the city centre as they engaged in barbaric scenes which spread to the Rainbow Towers, where the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) set its national command centre.

The growing mob clashed with riot police officers who used teargas and water cannons as they tried to break the violent demonstrations.

Heavily-armed soldiers joined the police and fired warning shots which sent the protesters in all directions in scenes which were captured live by international television crews.

Respected University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure said Chamisa’s pre-election statement — in which he said he would not accept any other result but a victory — could have ignited the mayhem.

“This is an expression of pent up anger and also the reflection of expectation that had been generated over the electoral period. That kind of declaration left Zimbabwe on the edge.

“In politics those are dangerous statements. Inevitably, this (violence) will affect the election, and it came at the end of what was a relatively free and fair election compared to previous polls.

“This tarnishes what was supposed to be a watershed election in terms of fairness, now the verdict is going to be different,” said Masunungure.

He, however, said the deployment of soldiers was “unnecessary” as the situation appeared not to be that threatening to warrant their involvement.

“From the information I have, it appears to be only a handful of people who are protesting and not a massive body and such a number can be handled well with teargas and not necessarily inviting the army because that can peter out in the evening.

“I don’t think it will degenerate into massive chaos, the majority of Zimbabweans are averse to risk taking even those in the MDC. I don’t think they will gather enough stamina to do that,” he added.

Another political analyst Maxwell Saungweme condemned the MDC for inciting the violence but also said it was “wrong” for government to unleash the army.

“There was no need for burning buses and violence from the protesters. This must be condemned in strongest of terms. It’s unnecessary heavy-handedness … to deploy the army to quell civilian violence where the protesters are not armed.

“The best way out of this is for Zec to announce … results from the poll and allow the winning candidate to be sworn in as soon as possible to avoid a power vacuum.
The winning candidate, whoever it is, must unite people and reach out to the losing candidate to put Zimbabwe first.

“The two top presidential candidates need to come out openly and call for their supporters to stop violence and give Zec a chance to announce all remaining results within the time-frame stipulated in the Constitution,” Saungweme told the Daily News.

Yesterday’s bloodletting violence and the army’s involvement to break the demonstration, took off the gloss from historic elections whose campaign periods were generally characterised by peace.

On Monday, Zimbabwe held its first elections without former president Robert Mugabe whose 37-year iron-fisted rule was dramatically ended by a military operation last November which triggered events that ended with his resignation.

The elections also marked the first time that the main opposition MDC was not represented by its founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai who lost his brave battle with cancer of the colon on Valentine’s Day this year.

Zec is expected to have announced all the election results, including the presidential vote, by end of the week, although the national elections management body signalled yesterday that it was ready, but was being held up by verification of V11 forms by agents representing the 23 aspirants.


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