Tsvangirai backs down

The MDC has withdrawn its legal challenge againt Robert Mugabe.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Demcoratic Change, says he doesn't trust that the legal process will be fair. Picture: AFP

HARARE - Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said on Friday it doubted its legal challenge to President Robert Mugabe's re-election would be given a fair hearing and accused election officials of withholding crucial evidence.

Mugabe, 89, and his Zanu-PF party were declared winners of the 31 July election, but the MDC, led by outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has challenged the result at the Constitutional Court which is due to hear the case on Saturday.

MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora told journalists the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had refused its request for voting related information, including the number of people who voted, but were not on the electoral roll.

The ZEC says it is not obligated to hand over the material, which it says is irrelevant to the MDC challenge.

"We want to expose the irregularities and illegalities that marred the credibility and legitimacy of this election," Mwonzora said. "It is extremely doubtful whether the MDC will receive a fair hearing in this case."

Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1980, told critics of his re-election to "go hang", making clear he would brook no questioning of his disputed victory either from the West or his MDC rival.

Mugabe's lawyers gave their response to the MDC challenge on Friday, leaving the party with less than 24 hours to study the documents ahead of the court hearing, Mwonzora said.

In its arguments calling for a fresh election, the MDC alleged hundreds of thousands of voters were turned away and the voters' roll was flawed, containing at least 870,000 duplicated names.

Zimbabwe's constitution says the court must rule on the case within 14 days. Analysts predict the legal challenge is unlikely to succeed because, they say, Mugabe's Zanu-PF party dominates the judiciary and other state institutions.

Pointing to flaws in the July 31 vote cited by domestic observers, Western governments - especially the United States - have questioned the credibility of the election outcome and are considering whether to prolong sanctions against Mugabe.

But Mugabe is drawing comfort from African election observers who endorsed the elections as largely free and orderly and have urged Zimbabweans to move on peacefully. Western observers were barred from observing the vote.