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31 Mar 2008 09:35
Robert Mugabe on Monday was desperately trying to cling to power, despite his clear defeat in Zimbabwe’s presidential election, by blocking the electoral commission from releasing official results and threatening to treat an opposition claim of victory as a coup.
In the first results from parliamentary elections, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) took three seats each, but they were relatively insignificant compared to the presidential vote, where Mugabe is facing a stark repudiation as voters blame him for bringing economic ruin to Zimbabwe.
In an early-morning broadcast on radio and television, the deputy chief elections officer, Utoile Silaigwana, declared the first parliamentary results and went off the air saying “We’ll be back with you when we have more results.”
The MDC said that what it regards as the overwhelming win by its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, is “under threat” despite growing support from foreign monitors for its claim of victory. The party also said it had “security concerns” after a police raid on its election offices on Sunday.
Tsvangirai made no public appearances, apparently out of concern for his safety,
Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, warned Tsvangirai not to declare himself president because that “is called a coup d’état and we all know how coups are handled”.
Sources close to the MDC said the party leadership had put out feelers to the military and elements of the ruling Zanu-PF to try to arrange a peaceful transfer of power.
Independent monitoring groups said returns posted at about two-thirds of polling stations gave Tsvangirai 55% of the vote, to Mugabe’s 36%.
A third presidential candidate, Simba Makoni, a former finance minister who broke with Mugabe, took about 9%.
Zanu-PF also appears to have suffered losses in the parliamentary election with at least nine members of its politburo losing their seats, including the vice-president, Joice Mujuru, and the defence, information and education ministers.
The MDC’s secretary general, Tendai Biti, said the party was increasingly alarmed at the refusal of the state-run Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to issue any results. “It appears the regime is at a loss how to respond ... We are really concerned by this assault on democracy. The primary point of an election is a result. We think there is a constitutional threat to those results,” he said.
The commission has in the past begun issuing results as soon as they are posted at polling stations, and collated them by constituency for release within hours of the vote.
The ZEC’s chairperson, George Chiweshe, declined to explain why he was still not issuing results more than 24 hours after the polls closed. “This is a complicated election and we will release the results when we have them,” he said.
Opposition supporters in some towns, including Bulawayo, Mutare and Masvingo, publicly celebrated but generally Zimbabweans were cautious, not quite believing that Mugabe will leave office after 28 years in power.
With more than 50% of the vote, Tsvangirai would avoid a run-off election although his proportion might yet fall below the threshold as many of the remaining results are from rural areas where Mugabe traditionally has support.
Biti warned there was still scope for fraud. He said his party was encountering new irregularities, including the sudden appearance of additional ballot boxes at polling stations where the count had been completed.
He also said MDC election agents had been prevented from attending the count at several polling stations where the results then showed Zanu-PF doing significantly better than in surrounding areas.
South African monitors said they believed the opposition had won but would hold off on a public statement until the official results were announced. The Pan-African Parliament observer mission warned against further delays in issuing the results.
A British Foreign Office minister, Mark Malloch-Brown, said it was “quite likely” that Mugabe had lost despite “massive pre-election day cheating”. - guardian.co.uk Â
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