/ 3 April 2008

Zim awaits presidential vote results

Zimbabweans waited anxiously on Thursday for an end to a deafening official silence over the outcome of their presidential election, after the opposition took control of Parliament.

The country’s electoral commission wrapped up final results on the parliamentary contest in the early hours, in which President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF lost its majority to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Mugabe now faces the prospect of defeat in the presidential contest to his arch-rival, MDC chief Morgan Tsvangirai, who Mugabe recently pledged would never rule in his lifetime.

Frustrated with the silence from the commission, the MDC pre-emptively released its own results on Wednesday indicating that Tsvangirai had won the presidency with more than 50% of votes.

While Mugabe’s government was quick to condemn the announcement, diplomatic sources indicated intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations were under way to ensure a smooth exit for the veteran leader, in power for three decades.

The MDC’s secretary general, Tendai Biti, told a press conference in Harare that Tsvangirai had won 50,2% of votes against 43,8% for Mugabe.

”Put simply, he has won this election … Morgan Richard Tsvangirai is the next President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, without a run-off.”

Biti said the government was trying to massage the results and pointed to a front-page story in Wednesday’s government mouthpiece Herald newspaper that said there was now likely to be a run-off as neither man had a clear majority.

”The state media has already begun to prepare the people for a run-off … If that is the position, this party will contest the run-off.”

In the parliamentary contest, which was finally wrapped up in the early hours with an announcement from the electoral commission, the MDC won 109 seats against 97 for Zanu-PF. An independent candidate, former information minister Jonathan Moyo, also retained his seat in the 210-member chamber.

The situation is slightly complicated by a split in MDC ranks, with 10 of the newly elected lawmakers belonging to a faction at odds with Tsvangirai.

Three candidates died in the build-up to the polls and elections in their constituencies will take place at a later date.

With 84-year-old Mugabe’s grip on power starting to loosen, diplomatic sources said there was a concerted effort to persuade him to stand down with dignity after a 28-year rule that began at independence.

In South Africa, Nobel Prize winner and anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu said he hoped Mugabe would ”step down with dignity”.

”That is democracy … I mean when your time is over, your time is over.”

The economy of Zimbabwe has been in meltdown since the start of the decade, with inflation now standing at more than 100 000% and unemployment at beyond 80%. Even basic foodstuffs such as bread are now in scarce supply.

Meanwhile, Business Day reported on Thursday that Mugabe has admitted to his family and advisers that he has lost the election.

Business Day said Mugabe had privately conceded defeat and was deciding if he should contest a run-off vote needed because Tsvangirai failed to secure a clear majority.

”Mugabe has conceded to his closest advisers, the army, police and intelligence chiefs. He has also told his family and personal advisers that he has lost the election,” Business Day quoted an unidentified source as saying.

The newspaper said hardliners in Mugabe’s government wanted him to see the contest through to the bitter end, but that personal advisers and his family want Mugabe to quit.

The ruling Zanu-PF and Mugabe’s spokesperson were not immediately available for comment, the paper said.

Aid package

Britain is working on an unprecedented £1-billion-a-year international emergency aid and development package to rescue the ruined Zimbabwean economy.

The scale of the programme — nearly triple the aid presently going to Zimbabwe — means it will be coordinated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, European Union and United Nations. It will be discussed at the IMF spring meeting on April 12 and 13 in Washington, at a European Union general affairs council later in the month, and possibly at the margins of the Nato summit in Bucharest.

The IMF prepared a rescue package for the Zimbabwean economy nine years ago, but it was rejected by Mugabe. British officials are looking to see how it will need to be updated. A separate aid package was drawn up in 2007 by the Southern African Development Community, but that too was rejected because of the conditions attached.

Mugabe has instead been looking for loans from Iran, China and Libya to finance his massive deficits.

Models examined by the Department for International Development suggest that if the currency can be corrected, it will be possible for the economy to be turned around relatively quickly. IMF work suggests hyperinflation can be brought under control in a year, allowing output to rise relatively rapidly. Price and exchange-rate liberalisation are seen as a condition of progress by the IMF. But British government sources said the £1-billion-a-year package, possibly assembled at a donor conference, might need to last many years.

Britain, the former colonial power, is anxious not to be seen at the helm of the aid package, and is stressing that the initiative will eventually be an international one. Any attempt to be seen to be bribing the Zimbabwean people to reject Mugabe is likely to be used as a propaganda tool by Zanu-PF, requiring Britain to walk a tightrope. — AFP, Â