Britain’s Brown Blasts Mugabe

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in his strongest remarks yet on Zimbabwe, all but accused President Robert Mugabe of stealing the country's disputed election. Addressing a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the first day of his visit to the United States, Brown said bluntly that "no one thinks, having seen the results at polling stations, that Robert Mugabe has won this election. A stolen election would not be a democratic election at all." Brown made the remarks at a special Security Council session chaired by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who also heads the South African Development Conference (SADC), which is mediating the crisis in Zimbabwe on behalf of the region. Over the years Mbeki has come under fire for his failure to criticize the despotic Mugabe, still seen by many as an African hero for his role in overthrowing white minority rule in what was then Rhodesia. Although the session's agenda was limited to African peacekeeping problems, Brown and other leaders insisted on addressing Zimbabwe, in some of the least diplomatic tones yet.

The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, set the tone. "I am deeply concerned at the uncertainty created by the prolonged nonrelease of the election results in Zimbabwe," Ban said. "The credibility of the democratic process could be at stake here." Even Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the current chairman of the African Union, was implicitly critical. "SADC has done a tremendous job," Kikwete said. "It's the reason that Zimbabwe was able to hold peaceful elections this time around." But he added that the SADC needed to continue to engage with Zimbabwe—and noted that a high-level meeting was planned to do so this weekend. The Zimbabwean Election Commission has failed to release the results of the March 29 presidential poll, said to have been won by Mugabe's rival, Morgan Tsvangirai. The commission has announced that opposition parties did win control of parliament, but the ruling ZANU-PF party is now demanding a recount of that ballot after accusing rivals of stealing votes in some districts. For his part, Mugabe is also trying to prepare the ground for a possible runoff vote in the presidential race.

Ban's remarks were also unusually direct for the normally cautious secretary-general. He suggested that a possible compromise could be the runoff vote, but only if international observers were called in to guarantee that the polls were fair. "The U.N. stands ready to assist in that regard," he said.

Brown also supported the idea of an internationally monitored second round of voting, which presumably would pit Mugabe against Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai has publicly renounced participating in a second round, because he claims to have won more than 50 percent of the vote in the first ballot. That makes it hard to see how Brown could justify describing the election as stolen and countenancing a runoff. Asked about that, he repeated his stand that international observers would guarantee that it was fair. Privately, Brown aides say they were encouraged by Ban's and Kikwete's stance, saying Mugabe is increasingly isolated. "There's been a sea change," one said. "It's no longer seen as just Britain and the United States, but the Africans are concerned about it." They glossed over Mbeki's relative silence on the issue and denied suggestions that he had snubbed Brown by canceling a planned meeting before the Security Council session. Brown himself made light of it, saying he had recently met with Mbeki and talked to him often by telephone. But the South African leader's silence from the chair of the session was remarkable compared with the stance of many of his fellow leaders.