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Zimbabwe may need to hold runoff

Times Staff Writer

Signs continued to point Monday to either a runoff or outright defeat for longtime ruler Robert Mugabe in the weekend presidential election, but no final overall count was released for a second straight day.

According to initial official results released by the Zimbabwe Election Commission, with 66 of 210 parliament seats decided, Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party was one seat ahead of the main opposition party with no presidential results announced. The ruling party had won 31 seats and the opposition 30. Five went to other parties.

An independent monitoring group, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, released a sample from 435 polling stations that showed opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai winning 49.4% of the vote and Mugabe 41.4%. A presidential candidate would win outright by receiving more than 50% of the vote.

If there was a runoff, many believe Mugabe would lose because Tsvangirai would gain a large percentage of votes from the third main candidate, Simba Makoni, a ruling party defector and former finance minister. The runoff would be held within 21 days.

As opposition observers continued to predict a victory over Mugabe and declared that his ruling party was in shock, Britain, Germany, the U.S. and the European Union called on the national election commission to speed up the release of final results.

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Although commission results have only trickled out, final counts at individual polling stations were made public for the first time, and some analysts said they would be difficult to tamper with. ZANU-PF lost key rural strongholds, including a seat in Mugabe’s home village, according to the initial results.

With tension growing, riot police were reported in townships near Harare where opposition support is strongest.

Mugabe, whose 28-year autocratic tenure has been buffeted by a rapidly escalating economic crisis, met in emergency session with military and security chiefs. In recent weeks, several hard-line security chiefs said they would not serve Tsvangirai, and last week Mugabe said the opposition leader would never be allowed to rule Zimbabwe.

“Without doubt they’re in shock,” said former ruling party Information Minister Jonathan Moyo. “Right now they’re facing the fact that it’s either Morgan [Tsvangirai] winning or a runoff, which Mugabe won’t win,” said Moyo, who ran as an independent.

Moyo dismissed the possibility that the voting results could be fixed.

“They can’t fix it. It’s unfixable, because there will be a wave of momentum that will be too much,” he said.

One ZANU-PF insider who asked to remain anonymous expressed a similar view, saying that the government wanted to “manage” public emotion over an opposition victory and prevent disorder or looting by releasing results gradually.

The opposition ratcheted up the pressure early Monday when Movement for Democratic Change Secretary-General Tendai Biti announced that the opposition had photographed the final counts posted at about 4,000 of the 8,000 polling stations as evidence to prove election fraud if necessary.

He said Tsvangirai won 58% of the vote compared with 37% for Mugabe, and 96 of 128 parliament seats thus far counted.

“The worst case scenario is a runoff. The worst case scenario is not a ZANU-PF victory. That’s not possible,” Biti said. “Unlike previous elections, no one can privatize the result because it is posted outside the polling stations. It is extremely difficult to steal an election when the results are posted.”

Zimbabwe Election Commission results showed losses for Mugabe’s party in rural areas and the defeat of two ministers, including Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

One Western diplomat said the ruling party had suffered shocking losses. “They have effectively been wiped out in large parts of their heartland. They’re in shock. They have no idea what to do about it.”

Other Western diplomats were convinced Mugabe would cling to power despite what they said was the clear evidence that he had lost.

“Mugabe does not know the game is up. He’s prepared to take the country down with him,” one said. “But even if Mugabe steals the election, he misses the point. This is not just a rough patch. This has been seismic. The country has rejected him.”

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com


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