Hitting back at the furore over his disputed victory in last month’s elections, Robert Mugabe launched a new tirade against his opponents, telling them to “go hang”.
In his first public speech since the 31 July elections, the 89-year-old Mr Mugabe taunted his defeated rival Morgan Tsvangirai, who is currently launching a court challenge to what he describes as a “fraudulent and stolen” vote. Mr Mugabe dismissed Mr Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as “pathetic puppets” and “Western stooges”.
Mr Mugabe was speaking at a national shrine outside Harare at the annual Heroes’ Day rally to honour heroes of the country’s liberation wars. The MDC boycotted the event in protest at the contested vote. The President did not name Mr Tsvangirai directly during his hour-long speech, but his opponent was clearly the target of some choice invective. “Those who lost elections may commit suicide if they so wish. Even if they die, dogs will not eat their flesh,” Mr Mugabe said.
Mr Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, won 61 per cent of the presidential vote while Mr Tsvangirai only received 35 per cent, according to official results – a remarkable score, given Mr Tsvangirai’s 48 per cent to 43 per cent lead in the first round of the March 2008 presidential elections. Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party also secured a hefty parliamentary majority of more than two-thirds, winning 160 of the 210 seats. However, non-governmental organisations say the vote was rigged through a variety of schemes, the most effective being the fiddling the electoral rolls with an estimated one million invalid names. The election has also elicited fierce condemnation from the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom.
But Mr Mugabe insisted the result reflected popular opinion. “We are delivering democracy on a platter. We say, ‘Take it or leave it’, but the people have delivered democracy,” he said.
As Prime Minister for the past four years, Mr Tsvangirai has led an awkward unity government including ministers from both the MDC and Zanu-PF. But Mr Mugabe was scathing about the administration, saying that it was riddled with corruption. “We have thrown the enemy away like garbage. They say we have rigged, but they are thieves. We say to them: ‘You are never going to rise again’.”
Despite what he called “the major betrayal of our inalienable right to vote for which so many people died”, Mr Tsvangirai appealed for calm yesterday. “We have just come from a disputed and stolen election and the majority of Zimbabweans are still shocked at the brazen manner in which their vote was stolen,” he said. “There is no national celebration and all I can see is a nation in mourning over the audacity of so few to steal from so many.”
The MDC’s legal challenge, filed last Friday, calls for the result to be declared null and void and a new election to be called within 60 days. It lists 15 alleged poll failings, including alleged bribery, abuse of “assisted voting” and manipulation of the electoral roll.
The suit is not expected to overturn the final result: even Mr Tsvangirai has acknowledged that the nine-member Constitutional Court, packed with Mugabe appointees, is unlikely to take a position against the President. But the hearing could still reveal some of the electoral practices that secured Mr Mugabe his victory.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an independent NGO, has already said that about one million voters were “systematically disenfranchised” by being struck from the voters’ roll or turned away at the polling booth. And since the election, two commissioners have resigned from the nine-member Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which oversaw the poll, citing irregularities in the vote.