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Church leaders hail peaceful election in Zimbabwe

Zimbabweans wait to cast their votes (Photo: PA)

A spokesman for Zimbabwe’s bishops has said that last week’s general elections were peaceful and have put the country on the “right track”.

Fr Frederick Chiromba, secretary-general of the bishops’ conference, made his remarks in Harare last week. On Saturday Robert Mugabe was declared the winner, giving him a seventh term as president. He reportedly gained 61 per cent of the vote.

Fr Chiromba that, while the “fairness of the process is in dispute”, Zimbabweans were able to cast their votes in a peaceful environment.

With Zimbabwe “certainly on the right track, we hope the country will be welcomed back into the international and regional community and be properly integrated there,” he said.

Observers from the Southern African Development Community described Zimbabwe’s elections as free and peaceful, while the European Union said the polls were peaceful and withheld judgment on whether they were fair.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, meanwhile, has accused Mugabe’s party of vote-rigging. The political rivals were forced into a power-sharing deal after disputed elections in 2008.

Bishop Alexio Churu Muchabaiwa of Mutare, chairman of the national Catholic justice and peace commission, said that the polls “were very peaceful compared to the 2008 elections”, which were marred by violence and intimidation.

“But there was intimidation this time around, too,” he said, particularly in rural areas, traditionally strongholds of Mugabe’s party.

The commission and the Inter-Regional Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa said that they recorded 47 incidents of poll irregularities in the elections.

Bishop Muchabaiwa told a press conference that the Church was concerned that a significant number of voters could not find their names on the voters’ roll.

“There are more incidents that are yet to be verified,” he told the American Catholic News Service.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had five days to declare who won the poll.

Fr Chiromba said the “problems and irregularities that were experienced must be investigated by the appropriate” legal authorities and will “provide lessons for future elections”.

Noting that many previous elections in Zimbabwe “have been marred by violence”, Father Chiromba said it is significant that “this time there was no overt violence”.

“The fact that the elections were rushed may have compromised their credibility,” he added.

Mugabe announced the election date on June 12.

The Church “strongly encouraged people to participate” in these elections, Fr Chiromba said, noting that, in a pastoral letter earlier this year, the bishops said this election would be as important in determining the country’s destiny as the 1980 vote that led to independence from Great Britain.

“We are hopeful that a rehabilitated country will bring back those who left Zimbabwe as economic refugees,” Fr Chiromba said.

“There are too few jobs at present to entice many among Zimbabwe’s diaspora to return home yet,” he said.

Bishop Muchabaiwa said that Zimbabwe’s high unemployment rate and levels of corruption were among the Church’s major concerns.

Zimbabwe is still reliant on food aid, he said, noting that there are insufficient local corn supplies this year.

“Although the supermarkets are fully stocked, many people can’t afford to buy the food they need to feed their families,” he said.