(Johannesburg) - Presidential runoff elections in Zimbabwe cannot be credible unless conditions are met for free and fair elections, Human Rights Watch said today.

More than a month after general elections were held on March 29, 2008, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on May 2 released results of the presidential elections.

According to ZEC, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat incumbent President Robert Mugabe by 47.9 percent to 43 percent of the vote. Under Zimbabwe’s electoral laws, if a winning candidate fails to get 50.1 percent of the vote, then a runoff must take place between the two candidates with the most votes.
Since the elections, the ruling ZANU-PF party, the army and so-called war veterans have conducted a brutal state-sponsored campaign of violence, torture and intimidation against MDC activists and supporters. Electoral issues that plagued Zimbabwe’s general elections on March 29, 2008 such as access to the media, and fairness and impartiality of the ZEC have not been rectified.

“The ruling party’s bloody crackdown on the opposition makes a free and fair runoff vote a tragic joke,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The violence must stop and an impartial process be put in place before any new vote is held.”

The long delay in announcing the results of the presidential elections and the government’s politically motivated arrests of more than 100 presiding election officers around the country raises serious questions about the official tally.

“Unless Zimbabwe reforms its system to ensure that the vote is free and fair, with an impartial electoral commission to oversee the count, any election will lack all credibility,” said Gagnon.

Human Rights Watch called on the African Union to strongly condemn the electoral irregularities and ongoing violence leading up to the announcement of the presidential election results. Human Rights Watch urged African leaders to make clear to the Zimbabwean government that a second round of elections can only be credible if conditions for free and fair elections are met and carried out under the supervision of the international community.