Call for unity govt in Zimbabwe as Mugabe wins first recount
Thursday, 24 April 2008

AFP, HARARE - A unity government led by President Robert Mugabe may be the best way to break Zimbabwe's post-election deadlock, state media said Wednesday, as the first result from a recount of votes was declared.

While Mugabe's ZANU-PF party triumphed in the first of 23 constituencies holding a recount from the March 29 polls, the state-run Herald newspaper said it was clear no side would win a majority in the presidential election and the best way forward therefore was to form a government of national unity.

"The Zimbabwe government and independent international observers are agreed that the just-ended harmonised elections did not produce an outright winner in the presidential race. It is unlikely the ongoing recount will substantively alter that position," said an opinion piece in the government mouthpiece.

"Accordingly, it stands to reason that the transitional government of national unity ... should be led by the incumbent president." Twenty-five days have now passed since the country held joint parliamentary and presidential elections, and the outcome of both ballots still remains up in the air.

While the election commission has given no word on the outcome of the presidential poll, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change had initially wrested control of the 210-seat parliament from ZANU-PF. But even that result could now be reversed as the commission recounts votes in 23 constituencies, all but two of which were initially said to have returned an MDC candidate to parliament.

In the first constituency to complete its recount, Goromonzi West, ZANU-PF was confirmed the winner and only needs to reverse the result in seven of the other seats under the microscope in order to regain control of parliament.

The opposition has denounced the recount process as a ploy by Mugabe to steal back control of parliament and says the delay to the result of the presidential election is also intended to buy a defeated regime more time.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has already declared himself the outright winner over 84-year-old Mugabe, was in Mozambique on Wednesday as part of his ongoing quest to build up diplomatic pressure on his longstanding rival to stand down. He held meetings in the morning with former president Joaquim Chissano and was due to meet in the afternoon with President Armando Guebuza.

Tsvangirai has also floated the idea of a national unity government but with himself, rather than Mugabe, at its helm. The MDC leader has accused Mugabe of human rights abuses and of having led the one-time regional model to economic rack and ruin.

At independence from Britain in 1980, when Mugabe began his marathon 28 years in power, the country was the bread basket of the region. Now however it has the world's highest rate of inflation -- officially put at 165,000 percent but believed to be several times higher -- and an unemployment rate of more than 80 percent.

Mugabe's regime blames the country's woes on a package of sanctions, including a ban on weapons sales, imposed by the United States and European Union since the president's disputed re-election in 2002.

After the collapse of relations with the West, Mugabe has been looking to forge ties with Asian countries such as China from whom he has ordered a massive shipment of weaponry.

However China appears to be getting cold feet over the consignment which has been shunned by ports in countries neighbouring landlocked Zimbabwe and indicated on Tuesday that the ship could abandon its mission.

The United States has asked Beijing to turn the vessel back to China and has also asked Angola and Zimbabwe's other neighbors, including South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia, not to allow the ship to dock.

The State Department's top Africa hand, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, was due to arrive in South Africa Wednesday to discuss the turmoil in Zimbabwe on the first leg of a trip which will also take her to Zambia and Angola.

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