Zimbabwe awaits official vote tally

Times Staff Writer

President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party were defeated in presidential and parliamentary elections, according to the opposition and independent observers, but there was deafening silence Sunday from the Zimbabwe Election Commission, which released almost no results.

Tension was high here in the capital, as large numbers of riot police patrolled deserted streets after dark. There were also reports of riot police in the crowded urban townships.

Fear grew that the count was being rigged as the delay in announcing results wore on. The first official results are usually released within hours of the polls closing.

Mugabe, 84, faced the strongest challenge in his 28 years of power from Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change; and a ruling party defector, Simba Makoni. Unconfirmed reports said a swath of key ministers and Mugabe loyalists had lost their seats in parliament.


“The wave of change was too strong,” said one shocked politician who lost office, a member of the ruling ZANU-PF party who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said conditions in the ruling party were extremely tense.

Tsvangirai’s party maintained that he won 67% of the vote in 150 of the 210 constituencies. The figures were based on final tallies posted at individual polling stations after being signed off by electoral officials, the first time these counts have been posted.

The posting of final tallies at polling stations makes fraud easier to detect and follows recent reforms to election law after pressure from a regional body, the Southern African Development Community.

The opposition MDC’s secretary-general, Tendai Biti, said the final support figure for Tsvangirai was expected to decline to about 55% as figures from Mugabe’s rural strongholds in Mashonaland province came in.

In a briefing to diplomats, independent election observers put the result at 55% for Tsvangirai, 36% for Mugabe and 9% for Makoni, with 66% of votes counted.

George Chiweshe, head of the Election Commission, said official results would be issued starting at 6 a.m. today.

“It’s an involving and laborious process. It takes time for the results to filter through,” he said, explaining the delay. He added that only commission results were legitimate.

When the first returns were announced, they included only six parliamentary seats, split 3-3 between ZANU-PF and the opposition.


The country’s desperate economic problems have increased opposition to Mugabe. Zimbabweans face the highest inflation in the world and the sharpest economic collapse in any country not at war. The official inflation figure is 100,000%, but independent observers put the figure at 200,000% with predictions that it could go to half a million percent within months.

Even in some ruling party heartland areas like Manicaland province, Tsvangirai was well ahead, according to the final posted tallies.

In one Manicaland district, Nyanga, Tsvangirai won about 65% of the vote in the final tally posted at the polling booth, with 330 votes, while Mugabe got 177 and Makoni 53. In the contest for another rural Manicaland seat close to the Mozambique border, Tsvangirai won 70%.

“We’ve won this election,” said an exhausted Biti. “The results coming in show that in our traditional strongholds, we are massacring them. In Mugabe’s traditional strongholds they are doing very badly. There is no way Mugabe can claim victory unless it is through fraud. He has lost this election.


“We must savor these scenes, as for the rest of our lives we’ll say we were there.”

Information Ministry spokesman George Charamba, a close Mugabe ally, warned against an opposition claim of victory before the results came down: “It is called a coup d’etat and we all know how coups are handled,” he told the state-owned Sunday Mail.

David Coltart, from a small MDC faction split from the Tsvangirai group, said there were many reports of top Mugabe allies losing their seats.

“If that is true, this is literally a tsunami,” he said.


Coltart said the sweeping result made it difficult for the government to rig the count. “I think they’re going to be very hard pressed now,” he said, adding that Mugabe “is not sure where the military is, especially the rank and file. He’s not sure where the civil service is. He’s clearly run out of money. He knows that.”

The lack of information from official sources was eerie. Rumors flew around the country and cellphone networks could not get calls through.

But an upbeat state television bulletin Sunday night announced that Election Commission officials were “verifying” results, then cut to interviews across the country on how smooth and peaceful the elections had been.

Noel Kututwa, chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a pro-democracy group, said the delay in results was creating tension and speculation, and called on the Election Commission to release the results.


“Clearly the delay is fueling speculation that something might be going on,” he said.

Elliot Manyika, the ruling ZANU-PF’s political commissar and elections manager, said the party was winning and its mood was optimistic.

“We are winning. We get into the election in order to win,” he said speaking before any results came down.

“We are expecting the announcement to come and when it comes we expect to win because we have the superior candidate in Comrade Mugabe. He’s experienced; the others are people who came too late” into politics, Manyika said.


Fears of rigging were fueled by a headline in the state-owned Herald the day before the election, saying Mugabe would win with about 57% of the vote, based on a University of Zimbabwe poll.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice condemned Mugabe’s government Sunday during a visit to Jerusalem. “The Mugabe regime is a disgrace to the people of Zimbabwe and a disgrace to southern Africa and to the continent of Africa as a whole,” she said.

But an observer from the Southern African Development Community reported Sunday that the election was “a peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people.” Western observers and most Western correspondents were denied accreditation for the elections.