Zimbabwean opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai warned Thursday that he might pull out of the race along with his party if the government follows through on plans to count presidential ballots at a Harare command center instead of locally, among other developments raising doubts as to the fairness of the elections.
Tsvangirai told reporters that he has evidence President Robert Mugabe wants to rig the elections, as Harare correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported.
Elsewhere, the leader of South Africa’s election observer delegation to Zimbabwe has issued a gag order barring members of the mission from speaking independently.
The 54-member delegation, which will operate under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community, departed South Africa late Thursday.
Delegation leader Kingsley Mamabolo was reported to have said that the members of his delegation, made up of South African parliamentarians, government officials, civic activists and electoral commission staff, would be guided by the SADC code of conduct and would not “seek to score cheap political points.”
But observer Dianne Kohler-Barnard, a parliamentarian of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, told reporter Carole Gombakomba that fears independent statements would discredit the spirit of the Angolan-led SADC delegation were unfounded.
Meanwhile, SADC's own observer group in Harare said it is satisfied with the electoral conditions in the election run-up. Mission head Jose Marcos Barrica also dismissed as inconsequential comments by senior security officials in recent days that they will not recognize what they called Western “puppets” if they came to power - statements clearly referring to Tsvangirai and independent candidate Simba Makoni.
Diplomats who met Tsvangirai on Thursday expressed concern about the voters roll as well as such comments by top security officials. But Zimbabwean Ambassador to South Africa Simon Khaya Moyo said concerns about rigging were unwarranted.
Senior Researcher Chris Maroleng of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Tsvangirai is right to sound an alarm about presidential ballot-counting procedures.