Opposition declares Zimbabwe election victory

However, Mugabe may be set on runoff to try and extend his increasingly autocratic rule.

Tsvangirai 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Tsvangirai 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
President Robert Mugabe's party lost its parliamentary majority, official results showed, bolstering opposition claims that hundreds of thousands of impoverished Zimbabweans voted for change in weekend elections. With official results still unreported in the separate presidential race, which was held alongside parliamentary balloting Saturday, Mugabe, in power all the 28 years since independence from Britain, may be focused on a runoff to try to extend his increasingly autocratic rule. An independent election observer said a ruling party official had told her the party would use every weapon in his considerable arsenal to ensure a runoff victory. The opposition claimed outright victory for leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential race, but the state-controlled newspaper predicted a runoff. The newspaper report was the first official admission that Mugabe had not won re-election. Mugabe has been silent and has not appeared in public since the vote. While maintaining there was no need for one, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was confident it could win a runoff with an even larger majority. The constitution provides for a runoff within three weeks of the elections if no candidate wins more than 50 percent plus one vote. Election observer Imani Countess of Washington-based TransAfrica Forum told The Associated Press that in a conversation with her, an unnamed senior ZANU-PF official "was very calm and jovial but made it very, very clear that if there was a run-off, that ZANU would use all the state organs at its disposal to ensure victory." Countess called the conversation frightening and "very, very worrisome." She said the powerful elite that has benefited from Mugabe's patronage had a vested interest in ensuring he wins. TransAfrica Forum is an independent group promoting African interests in the United States that has been among Mugabe's harshest critics. Mugabe has been accused of stealing previous elections, marshaling violence, fraud and intimidation. Saturday's election was different because results were posted outside polling stations for the first time, allowing independent monitors and party agents to make tallies independent of the official electoral commission. Opposition party secretary-general Tendai Biti said that was how the opposition arrived at results giving Tsvangirai 50.3 percent of votes to 43.8 percent for Mugabe. Simba Makoni, the former ruling party stalwart whose defection brought the internal rift over Mugabe's leadership into the open, trailed with about 8 percent. But the figures Biti gave at a news conference did not back up his contention that Tsvangirai won outright. Biti said 2,382,243 votes were cast, Tsvangirai received 1,171,079 - about 49 percent. Contacted soon after the news conference, Biti could not immediately explain the discrepancy. "We maintain that we have won the presidential election outright without the need for a run-off," Biti said at the news conference. But he added the opposition would take part in a runoff were ordered - and expected to do even better in a two-way race. Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga called the opposition announcement "irresponsible" and "mischievous." "They have got to be very careful," Matonga told the British Broadcasting Corp. "They think they can provoke ZANU-PF, and the police and the army." The government had previously warned that premature victory announcements by the opposition would be tantamount to a coup attempt. Tensions have been rising as people stayed away from work to await results. Paramilitary police stepped up patrols in Harare and Bulawayo, the second city, and checked vehicles at roadblocks leading to the capital. Police ordered stores selling alcohol and beer halls to shut early Tuesday night. The opposition has most of its support in urban centers. The Electoral Commission announced final results for parliamentary elections after midnight, giving the opposition 109 seats to 97 for Mugabe's party, plus one seat to an independent in the 210-seat parliament. Three seats must be decided in by-elections since candidates died or withdrew. Eight Cabinet ministers have lost their seats, according to official results. Countess, of TransAfrica, said she understood that secret negotiations between Mugabe's and Tsvangirai's parties aimed at providing a graceful exit for Mugabe had failed. Both the opposition and the ruling party had denied negotiations had taken place. South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel laureate, said Mugabe should have stepped down long ago. Mugabe "did a fantastic job, and it's such a great shame, because he had a wonderful legacy. If he had stepped down 10 or so years ago he would be held in very, very high regard," Tutu said. At independence, Mugabe was hailed for his policies of racial reconciliation and development that brought education and health to millions who had been denied those services under British colonial rule. Zimbabwe's economy thrived on exports of food, minerals and tobacco. It began unraveling in 2000 when Mugabe ordered the seizures of white-owned commercial farms to turn over to blacks. The farms went mainly to friends, relatives and cronies, some of whom have multiple farms, but do not use the land. Once a major regional food exporter, today one third of Zimbabweans depend on international food aid and 80 percent are jobless. The country suffers chronic shortages of everything - food, medicine, water, power, fuel.