Vote-rigging fears grow in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s ruling party edged ahead of the main opposition on Tuesday with over half of parliamentary election results released as concerns grew that President Robert Mugabe was trying to rig the vote.

Riot police in armoured carriers patrolled two of Harare’s opposition strongholds overnight and residents were told to stay off the normally bustling streets.

Three days after the most important vote since independence, only 109 out of 210 parliamentary constituencies had been declared, showing the ruling Zanu-PF two seats ahead of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

No results have been announced for the presidential vote, in which Mugabe faces the most formidable political challenge of his 28 years in power—from old rival Morgan Tsvangirai and ruling party defector Simba Makoni.

The opposition MDC says it won according to its own tally and has accused the veteran leader of delaying the issuing of the results in a bid to steal the election, which Zimbabweans hoped would ease daily hardships.

Zimbabweans are suffering the world’s highest inflation of more than 100 000%, food and fuel shortages, and an HIV/Aids pandemic that has contributed to a steep decline in life expectancy. Mugabe’s foes blame him for the economic disaster.

“It is now clear that there is something fishy. The whole thing is suspicious and totally unacceptable,” MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said.

Mugabe has denied rigging the election and his government warned that any early victory claim would be regarded as an attempted coup.

Official results so far showed Zanu-PF with 53 seats, MDC with 51 and a breakaway MDC faction with five. Five of the new seats the MDC won were from traditional ZANU-PF strongholds.

The MDC said unofficial tallies showed Tsvangirai had 60% of the presidential vote, twice the total for Mugabe. Private polling organisations also put Tsvangirai ahead.

“In our view, as we stated before, we cannot see the national trend changing. This means the people have spoken, they’ve spoken against the dictatorship,” MDC secretary general Tendai Biti said.

International pressure

An independent Zimbabwean election monitoring group forecast Tsvangirai, leader of the largest faction of the MDC, would win the most votes in the presidential poll but not by a big enough margin to avoid a second round.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said its projections gave him 49,4%. It predicted Mugabe would win 41,8% and Makoni would get 8,2%.

Tsvangirai was due to hold a news conference in the morning, his first since voting ended.

Seven European countries and the United States called on Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission (ZEC) to quickly release the results.

Slovenia, which holds the European Union presidency, also called for a speedy release of the results.

“This would end the current uncertainty and prevent the risk of rising tensions,” the EU Presidency said in a statement.

Electoral commission chairperson George Chiweshe said the slow pace was due to the complexity of holding presidential, parliamentary and local polls together for the first time.

Although the odds seemed stacked against Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980, analysts believe his iron grip on the country and solid backing from the armed forces could enable him to ignore the results and declare victory.

‘The more things change, the more they stay the same’

Meanwhile, despite his best efforts to invite “friendly” groups to come in and observe the Zimbabwean elections, Mugabe could not secure favourable assessments from observer missions, which instead gave scathing reports on the elections.

It started with the South African Development Community (SADC), which declared the elections peaceful and credible, but would not comment on the fairness of the polls.

On Monday, the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (Eisa) stepped up the critique and said the election environment favoured the Zanu-PF and certain issues that were raised during the election open the door for possible vote-rigging.

The PAP said it was concerned about the delayed availability of the voters’ roll, the intimidating presence of police officers at the polling stations, the inflated number of ballot papers that were printed as well as the independence of the ZEC.

Eisa concurred and said the ZEC was a “mere supervisory and advisory structure with little, if any, independence”.

Regarding the strong representation of government officials on ZEC committees, Eisa concluded “the more things change in Zimbabwe the more they stay the same” because these committees were packed with people from government ministries, security forces and the parastatal sector, the same as they were during the previous elections.

It also said stakeholders lacked a collective sense of confidence in the voters’ roll.

Eisa did not receive accreditation from the Zimbabwean government because it was considered to be critical of the government. The observer mission also raised concerns about the date of the elections and called it a “snap election” because opposition parties were not given enough time to prepare properly.

Both the PAP and Eisa pointed to the use of state resources by Zanu-PF to boost their chances at the polls. This includes the distribution of farm equipment, buses and vehicles for doctors in the weeks before the election.

“Although the mission appreciates that the government in power has certain obligations towards improving the welfare of citizenry, it nevertheless believes that the timing of such generosity was unfortunate,” the PAP said.

The ZEC told the PAP observers that results of the presidential poll could be expected on Tuesday.

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