Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai election jail threat

Mugabe supporters attend the rally in Harare ahead of this week's election. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Mugabe supporters attend the rally in Harare ahead of this week's election. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
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A SENIOR Zimbabwe opposition official was arrested yesterday as the country’s leader, Robert Mugabe, told thousands of supporters at a campaign rally that his rival Morgan Tsvangirai was a “crybaby” – and threatened to detain him.

Mr Mugabe, 89, warned Mr Tsvangirai, who has served as prime minister in a troubled four-year coalition, will be arrested if he announces poll results independently of the state electoral commission, as the Movement for Democratic Change leader has indicated he will.

“I can tell you in advance that if you breach the rules … the police will arrest you … I don’t care if you are prime minister,” the longtime Zimbabwe president told banks of white and yellow T-shirt wearing supporters in the heart of Harare. He said he would “suffer heart failure” if the voters in the capital city voted against him in three days’ time – just as they have in all elections since 2000.

Opinion polls have predicted an extremely close presidential race at this week’s poll. Former trade unionist Mr Tsvangirai, 61, has dipped a little in the popularity stakes following revelations of a string of affairs since he joined the coalition.

Earlier Mr Tsvangirai’s deputy national chairman, Morgan Komichi, was taken to Harare Central Police Station after he handed in to the electoral authorities ballot papers allegedly found stuffed in a dustbin after an early vote for soldiers and police two weeks ago, the MDC announced.

The opposition says the discarded papers are proof the vote was flawed and show that Mr Mugabe plans to rig Wednesday’s vote. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had said it would not treat rigging allegations seriously unless it was given evidence.

In a two-hour speech delivered mainly in Shona, a hint of weariness sometimes crept into the president’s voice as he promised to dish out houses, get school economic textbooks rewritten (because “they were written to serve the purposes of colonialism”) and make youngsters owners of diamond companies.

Huge gem deposits were discovered in Zimbabwe’s eastern Marange district in 2006. They are entirely under the control of Zanu-PF and Chinese companies. Speculation is high that an extra $27 million (£17m) suddenly “found” by Mr Mugabe’s justice minister on Friday to help fund the polls came from undeclared diamond revenues.

Flanked by his wife Grace, Mr Mugabe hit out at “crybaby Tsvangirai” for complaining to South African president Jacob Zuma and the electoral commission. Rights groups say up to two million potential voters aged 30 and under – who form Mr Tsvangirai’s key support base – were prevented from registering during a deliberately cumbersome process. The rally was broadcast live on state TV, which is refusing not only to air Mr Tsvangirai’s rallies but also to show some of his party adverts.

The first lady has played a key role in this election campaign as speculation over her husband’s health grows.