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Mail & Guardian Online reporters and Sapa, Sapa-AFP, Mail & Guardian Online reporter, Reuters and Sapa01 Apr 2008 21:49
Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai and the Zimbabwe government both denied on Tuesday that they were in talks to arrange the resignation of President Robert Mugabe.
At a news conference on Tuesday evening, Tsvangirai declined to declare himself the winner of the presidential election and said his party would not enter any deal before full election results were announced.
“There is no way the MDC will enter into any deal until the ZEC [Zimbabwean Electoral Commission] has confirmed the results.”
Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC: “There is no deal.
Tsvangirai confirmed, however, for the first time personally that his party had won the elections. He said that the MDC is today facing “the challenge of government” and that Zimbabwe will “never be the same again”.
He did not deny outright earlier rumours that MDC was privately having high-level talks with Zanu-PF to manage the ruling party’s exit from government.
Speculation was rife on Tuesday that Zanu-PF had approached the MDC to ensure a smooth handover of power, and that the ruling party wanted to strike a deal that would make the transition as painless as possible. This deal was rumoured to include a possible exemption from prosecution against Mugabe for human rights abuses.
An earlier flurry of conflicting reports had led news agencies and CNN to report that Mugabe was ready to step down after he accepted he had failed to win the country’s presidential election.
Tsvangirai, flanked by his secretary general, Tendai Biti, and the chairperson of the MDC Women’s Assembly, Theresa Makoni, promised to disclose the election results that the MDC has collated based on the results pasted outside polling stations after the weekend’s voting. He did not say whether these would include the results for the presidential race.
The ZEC had said on Sunday that the MDC was behaving illegally by releasing results before they were formally announced by the commission.
Although Tsvangirai insisted that the MDC would wait as long as necessary for the election results to be verified by the ZEC, he urged the commission to “proceed with haste” in releasing the official results.
“Our people cannot wait for the execution of that mandate â€¦We will exercise restraint and leadership . We refuse to resort to violent and unconstitutional means [of achieving change],” he told journalists.
When asked whether he expected an outright win—which would see him getting 50% plus one of the votes—or a run-off where no candidate received the outright majority of the votes, Tsvangirai said he was “above the constitutional requirement” in terms of the MDC’s own counts.
“We believe we have more than 50% of the votes. There is no doubt we have won the election,” he added.
The MDC is confident that it has won both the presidential and parliamentary elections and is already slightly ahead of Zanu-PF in the legislative count with two-thirds of the results declared.
The latest official parliamentary election results announced by Zimbabwe’s electoral commission had Zanu-PF in the lead with 79 constituencies, the MDC with 77 and the breakaway MDC faction with five, out of a total of 210 constituencies being contested.
However, there has still been no official results from the presidential contest, prompting MDC accusations that the authorities were desperately trying to cook up a way to keep Mugabe in power.
In a statement late on Monday, the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network said that according to its random representative sample of polling stations across the country, Tsvangirai had won just more than 49% of the vote. A presidential candidate needs at least 50% plus one vote to avoid a run-off.
A run-off would have to be held within 21 days, leaving it close to the 28th anniversary of independence on April 18 1980. Mugabe, who led a guerrilla movement that fought a seven-year war to end white minority rule, regards the anniversary as a potent symbol of his rule.
While there has so far been no significant violence in the aftermath of the poll, news that Mugabe was apparently ready to step down came after a coalition of rights groups warned the country was teetering on the brink of anarchy.
In a petition to the regional 14-member Southern African Development Community and the African Union, a coalition of 18 rights organisations urged them to exert pressure for the rapid announcement of the presidential result.
“We ... have found it necessary to send this urgent petition to your excellencies in order to save our country from potentially sinking into complete anarchy if election results are manipulated,” the petition said.
The United States on Tuesday urged the Mugabe government to release election results quickly and respect the people’s will even if it means officials losing office.
Political analyst John Makumbe earlier on Tuesday said he had learned from military sources that they would honour the results of the elections. That would indicate a change of heart since the security chiefs the day before the elections warned they would not serve anybody but Mugabe and would not tolerate an opposition victory.
The elections were held as Zimbabwe grapples with an inflation rate of more than 100 000% and widespread shortages of even basic foodstuffs such as bread and cooking oil.
Mugabe (84), Africa’s oldest leader, has blamed the economic woes on the European Union and the US, which imposed sanctions on his inner circle after he was accused of rigging his 2002 re-election.
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