Zimbabwe Election Results Still Uncertain

The results of last month's presidential election in Zimbabwe have yet to be announced. The government says they are in the process of verifying the votes, but leaders of the opposition claim long-term President Robert Mugabe is merely delaying the process in an attempt to retain power. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer discusses the ongoing political battle and potential international intervention.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Just ahead, remembering the victims of Nazi Germany's Holocaust. The head of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on why preserving memories matters. And, former President Jimmy Carter on his new book and his latest efforts in the Middle East. But first, the ongoing election crisis in Zimbabwe. A top cabinet official in Zimbabwe said today that a run-off will be necessary to decide Zimbabwe's presidential election. Since the election March 29th, Zimbabwe's electoral commission has refused to release the results of the vote in the presidential race, although it has said that the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front, headed by long time leader Robert Mugabe, lost control of parliament.

Meanwhile, observers say government forces have been waging a crackdown, harassing journalists, opposition leaders and activists. Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, the leading opposition party, has insisted that he and his party won both the presidency and the parliament outright and will not participate in a run-off. Here to talk more about this is Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer. She is the U.S.'s top diplomat in Africa. She's also a former ambassador to South Africa. We spoke to her earlier in the week. She had just returned from talks on Zimbabwe in South Africa and was headed to Oslo for work on the crisis in Somalia.

Ms. JENDAYI FRAZER (Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs): Thank you very much, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, you've traveled to the region several times since the crisis began. Last week, when you were in South Africa, you said that the opposition leader is a clear victor over Mr. Mugabe and quote, this is a government rejecting the will of their people. What makes you so sure?

Ms. FRAZER: Well, we have the independent monitors, specifically, the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, which projected a victory for Mr. Tsvangirai of at least 49.4 percent, and so he either won the first round, or he won outright. We probably will never know whether he won by more than the 50.1 percent necessary, since the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has taken so long to put out the results, and we don't know what's happened with those ballots in the meantime.

MARTIN: Have you spoken with Morgan Tsvangirai personally?

Ms. FRAZER: Yes. I met with him in South Africa.

MARTIN: And how is he?

Ms. FRAZER: He's doing well. He's been meeting across the region with leaders, trying to talk to the leaders, consult with them, about a way ahead to end this crisis, and also to protect his supporters in Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwe people. So, he's raising the issues about the human rights violations which are taking place.

MARTIN: How do you interpret the Commission's decision to release the parliamentary results but not to release the presidential results?

Ms. FRAZER: Well, I think that the Commission is now in a process of slow-rolling to give President Mugabe an opportunity to change the environment that led to his defeat in the first round, and by that I mean that his, as you said, his security forces are out now beating up people, intimidating the population, arresting the Movement for Democratic Change electoral officials, and so if there's going to be a run-off, he needed to do a bit of work to make sure that this time he doesn't lose, and I think that that's what this entire delay is about.

MARTIN: What do you think is the goal, to intimidate people into voting for him again or to changing their votes, or is it to change the votes that already have been cast?

Ms. FRAZER: Right. To change their votes for - if there' s a run-off, to change their votes to vote for him.

MARTIN: What is your view of South Africa's role in this? South Africa has been kind of the lead country in dealing with Zimbabwe at this point . Do you feel that they're doing enough?

Ms. FRAZER: Well, they did. I mean, to their credit, they were, as a facilitator, they were able to push President Mugabe to not create the violence of past elections so that on March 29th, the people actually had a relatively safe environment in which to express their will. There wasn't a lot of violence leading up to the election, but now he's reversed himself and the question is, will South Africa act decisively to try to put pressure on President Mugabe and his government, and particularly his security forces, to stop this violence so that if there should be a run-off, the conditions would be favorable so that the people could once again express their will? But it's a question of whether that will ever be the case. We may never know the true results of this election and we may never be able to have a free and fair run-off.

MARTIN: And what if they don't? I mean, what if the Commission simply will not release the results or release results which you believe to be contrary to the votes actually cast? What then?

Ms. FRAZER: Well, then I think we have a true crisis. I mean, it's already a crisis, but then we have a true crisis because the region would have to decide to put pressure on President Mugabe, probably to negotiate, and hopefully that negotiation would include President Tsvangirai as president of Zimbabwe, taking over. And here, that's where people are starting to talk about a government of national unity or some type of inclusive government. The problem is, they're talking President Mugabe leading that government when, in fact, the people have already voted him out.

MARTIN: So that result would be unacceptable to the U.S.?

Ms. FRAZER: It would unacceptable to the U.S. and it would result in us continuing to keep on our sanctions because it would not respect the will of the Zimbabwean people.

MARTIN: If you would just review for us, what sanctions are already in place, and are there any additional steps being considered?

Ms. FRAZER: Yes. We have targeted sanctions on about 100 Zimbabwean officials, some business people who are supporting the regimes, as well as the farms and private industry businesses of those officials. We have new information about some of the people who were supporting the regime, and including the people who were carrying out the gross human rights violations right now. We have names, and we can consider putting them on our targeted sanction list, as well as going to the United Nations and looking to place multilateral sanctions on these officials.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News and I'm speaking with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, about Zimbabwe. Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain said Wednesday in parliament that he would support an embargo on all arms to Zimbabwe. What is the U.S. view of that idea?

Ms. FRAZER: Well, we think it's a very good idea. We would certainly look to debate that question in a Security Council and other fora. It's particularly relevant given the shipment of Chinese weapons to the Zimbabwe Security Forces when they're cracking down on the population. Luckily, the region spoke with one voice in rejecting the delivery of those weapons to the Zimbabwe Security Forces. So that was very positive, and I think it was a very strong signal to the regime that their behavior is unacceptable, even to their neighbors.

MARTIN: Well, when you say the region spoke with one voice, I mean hasn't South Africa continued to say that they don't believe a full embargo is necessary?

Ms. FRAZER: Yeah. I do believe that that's South Africa's position right now, but South Africa's civil society basically acted to reject those weapons, and so I think that, yes, the government may have some distance from its own civil society on this issue.

MARTIN: It has been reported that in fact, security officials are really running the government at this point. Do you think that's true?

Ms. FRAZER: Well, there's a lot of evidence to support that claim. People like General Chiwenga, the head of the defense forces, as well as the head of their police forces, are clearly ones who have been reported to have said that they will not accept a rule of the MDC. We heard that consistently when we were traveling in the region that these security forces, what is called the Joint Operations Command, decided that President Mugabe should not concede defeat, and so there is a strong question about whether he is in control or his security apparatus is in control and the legitimacy of this government.

MARTIN: Do you see a scenario where this crisis can end without violence? I mean, there's already been violence in the sense that there's been violence directed by the government against opposition leaders and activists and their supporters. But are you concerned about a broader conflagration such as gripped Kenya after their election crisis last December, which took months to resolve?

Ms. FRAZER: It certainly could happen. And so, we are tremendously concerned and that's why we're asking the Security Council to look into this issue because it is a threat to regional peace and security. We believe that the opposition is acting with tremendous restraint. They're calling on their supporters to not attack back, not to fight back against the security forces because they know that that would be an excuse for President Mugabe to declare a state of emergency and really crack down.

But there is a threat that this crisis could spiral out of control, much like in Kenya. And we think that there needs to be some type of resolution of the crisis, and that's where the region has to speak very strongly. As President Bush and Secretary Rice have said, the African Union must step up and address this issue.

MARTIN: Having been to the region, and certainly having been in South Africa where a number of people from Zimbabwe have fled, what is your sense of how people are surviving in the country? I think it's been well reported that the inflation rate there is like the highest in the world, basic food stuff, gasoline, very much unavailable. How are people coping?

Ms. FRAZER: Barely. Many have left the country. They're voting with their feet. You know, millions have actually departed from Zimbabwe. The others who are still living there are living under horrific conditions. The official inflation rate is 100,000 percent. We, the United States, are really providing assistance to the Zimbabwean people. We provide about 171 million dollars in food aid annually, and we've provided significant assistance as well for health, HIV and AIDS, and other diseases.

MARTIN: I think that begs the question, are there any steps that the U.S. can take at this point to cut off aid to Zimbabwe without harming the people?

Ms. FRAZER: Well, we wouldn't want to cut off aid to Zimbabwe because we do want to support the people. So we're not considering any steps to cut off aid to the Zimbabwean people. But we are considering increasing our targeted sanctions on the government, the officials and on their businesses, as well as their supporters.

MARTIN: What's next?

Ms. FRAZER: I think that the next step is we're all, of course, waiting for the Electoral Commission to come out with the presidential vote. Then the region will know how it will react. If it's a clear stilling of the election, then I would expect the region to take stronger actions, perhaps sanction the Mugabe regime, clearly reject any type of vote that doesn't show that the people voted for change, since we all know through independent monitors that they did indeed vote for change. And I think that that was recognized broadly. If President Mugabe had won in March 29th, he certainly would have allowed the tally to be released by now. And so I think that that's the first step.

Secondly, we've got to continue to put great pressure on the government through the SADC, through the African Union, through the United Nations to stop these gross human rights violations. And I also think that the region has a responsibility to make sure that the leadership of the MDC is not harmed when they go home to Zimbabwe. There is a threat against their lives. The government has been going around trying to find seditious material to charge them with treason. And so, the region has to insist that they be protected and do what's necessary to protect them.

MARTIN: Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer. She joined us from the State Department. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. FRAZER: Thank you, Michel.

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