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Zimbabwe

Volume 474: debated on Monday 21 April 2008

The constitutional crisis in Zimbabwe continues as President Mugabe persists in his ambition to steal the election. It is over three weeks since the elections were held but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is yet to announce the presidential results. More worryingly President Mugabe and his ZANU(PF) party have unleashed a campaign of violence against those ordinary Zimbabweans, 60 per cent. of them, who in spite of everything voted against him. Political refugees from the rural areas that were once President Mugabe’s heartlands but have had the courage to express their opposition peacefully through the ballot box have been pouring into urban centres to receive medical treatment and support. Local and international NGOs are highlighting these abuses daily. Evidence that they are taking place is irrefutable. I believe all would join the Government in condemning absolutely these acts of violence which are cynically intended to punish people for the choices they have made and to intimidate them into submission should any second round of the presidential election be called.

Meanwhile in spite of numerous legal protests by the opposition, the Electoral Commission has begun a recount in 23 constituencies. No one can have any faith in this recount. The ballot boxes have been kept in uncertain conditions. The Electoral Commission has seen 13 of their number arrested in a clear effort to threaten and punish those who did their job independently. The count itself is proceeding at a ludicrously slow rate. This only serves to fuel suspicion that President Mugabe is seeking to reverse the results that have been published, to regain a majority in Parliament, and to amplify his own count in the presidential election. If that is the case, then what we are witnessing is a charade of democracy. We can have little confidence that whatever is ultimately announced as the presidential election results will not have been sullied and contaminated by rigging during this recount.

We continue to engage intensively to resolve this crisis and our action is focused in three areas. First, we continue to work to support all those working for democratic change in Zimbabwe. In spite of the challenges they face, civil society in Zimbabwe remains committed to democratic and peaceful change. We applaud and support their efforts.

Secondly, we continue to work with states in the region. We believe they are still best placed to apply pressure on President Mugabe and those who surround him, many of whom recognise that it is time for change. I welcome the statements of the African Union and of the Southern African Development Community calling for the presidential results to be released. That SADC states met in an extraordinary session in Lusaka and discussed Zimbabwe and its crisis for over 13 hours shows their concern at what is happening and the threat that it poses to the stability and security of their region. But, as the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, it is important that African leaders do more to engage directly in this crisis to help resolve it. The reaction of South African dockers to the direction to unload arms they believed destined for Zimbabwe shows that ordinary Africans do not condone the way in which President Mugabe is clinging to power and beating his own people to death to ensure he retains it. If President Mugabe and those who keep him in office will listen to anyone, they will listen to their peers in the region and in Africa more widely. But if they will not, Africans and their organisations should be clear in their public condemnation of what is happening and should withhold their recognition of President Mugabe’s regime. His actions pose a threat to democracy and to the values that the SADC and the AU espouse. Democratic legitimacy throughout Africa is at stake.

Thirdly, we are working through the international community as it remains united in standing up for democracy, it reinforces the confidence of democratic forces, and speaks with a clear voice about the value not just to Zimbabwe but to the whole region of following the will of the people. At the UN Security Council session in New York last week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister joined other voices from Africa, Europe and Latin America, along with the UN Secretary-General in calling for the election results to be released and in condemning the delay and violence. The UN Secretary-General has called for international monitors to observe any second round in Zimbabwe. We support that call and underline, as SADC leaders themselves did when meeting in Lusaka, that SADC observers must return now to observe the recount. They should be present in Zimbabwe until the election results are announced, so they may witness and ideally prevent the violence that is now occurring.

The European Union, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and many other states have called both for restraint within Zimbabwe and for credible results now to be released. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown and I continue to engage in intensive private discussions with African leaders and others with influence within Zimbabwe and the region. Our message is simple. Zimbabwe is on a knife edge: inflation is incalculable, life expectancy the lowest in the world and human rights abuses commonplace. Those metrics will all deteriorate if President Mugabe is allowed to steal this election. But if a Government that reflects the will of the people is allowed to emerge, Zimbabwe can begin the painful journey to recovery and once again become a full part of the international community.

Britain has always supported the Zimbabwean people. We are the second largest bilateral donor. We spent £45 million last year on support for the poorest and most vulnerable Zimbabweans. Our support helped feed up to 3 million people and provided treatment for more than 30,000 HIV/AIDS patients. That support will continue. It has become even more necessary in this period when President Mugabe has unleashed his youth militia on the people. But when there is positive change on the ground in Zimbabwe and a Government who are prepared to introduce sound governance and respond to the needs of ordinary Zimbabweans, Britain will play a full part in supporting recovery and development. It will be a huge task. But the Zimbabwean people will have the full support of the UK and the wider international community. The UK and other donors are ready to give that support when there is a return to real democracy and good governance within Zimbabwe.

I am sure the whole House will join the Government in committing themselves to working tirelessly for that day.