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Zimbabwe opposition claims win in presidential polls

Associated Press
Apr 03, 2008 at 01:10am IST

Harare: President Robert Mugabe's party lost control of Parliament, the latest official results showed on Wednesday, hours after the opposition claimed it also had won the presidency.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission results appear to confirm the unraveling of a regime that has ruled this southern African country since independence from Britain three decades ago, in recent years overseeing the collapse of the economy and accused of stifling democracy.

The official results gave the opposition Movement for Democratic Change 105 seats to 93 for Mugabe's ZANU-PF in the 210-seat House of Assembly. One seat went to an independent.

A VILLAIN? An election poster of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is pinned in an effigy mocking his government in Harare.

That means that even if ZANU-PF wins all the remaining seats, it will not have the seats needed for a majority.

At a news conference earlier on Wednesday, the opposition said that its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had won 50.3 per cent of the vote compared to 43.8 per cent for Mugabe.

"We maintain that we have won the presidential election outright without the need for a run-off," Movement for Democratic Change General Secretary Tendai Biti told a news conference.

However, the figures he gave did not back up his contention.

Biti said 2,382,243 votes were cast, and that Tsvangirai received 1,171,079 - about 49 per cent - while Mugabe got 1,043,349 - just under 44 per cent.

Contacted by The Associated Press soon after the news conference, Biti could not immediately explain the discrepancy.

The ruling ZANU-PF party rejected the opposition's claims, saying that it would await the full results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which has not yet published the outcome of Saturday's presidential poll.

Deputy Information Minister, Bright Matonga, said the opposition party was being "irresponsible" and "mischevious."

"They have got to be very careful with their activities," Matonga told the British Broadcasting Corp. "They think they can provoke ZANU-PF, and the police and the army."

The government had previously warned that premature announcement of election results by the Movement for Democratic Change would be tantamount to a coup attempt.

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Earlier on Wednesday, the state Herald newspaper predicted a runoff in the first official admission that Zimbabwe's autocratic leader of 28 years has failed to win re-election.

A presidential candidate needs at least 50 per cent plus one vote to avoid a runoff. A runoff would have to be held within 21 days of the first round.

Biti said the opposition would take part in a runoff if one was ordered - and that it expected to do even better in a two-way race.

Independent candidate Simba Makoni, a former Mugabe supporter, was believed to have siphoned off votes from both the opposition and the ruling party.

In campaigning, 84-year-old Mugabe had likened the elections to a boxing match, with his party winning in a knockout. Mugabe has been silent since the vote.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Wednesday urged Zimbabwe "to make known the election results immediately."

"If you look at the results of the parliamentary election, there is a vote for change," he said.

News reports on the presidential election, he said, show "there very clearly was a competitive presidential election. ... That is not something we have seen in past years in Zimbabwe."

Asked if the US was encouraging Mugabe to step aside, McCormack said: "Let's have the next step be the electoral results be put forward."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband hailed Tsvangirai's behavior as "statesmanlike," but stopped short of backing opposition claims of victory on Wednesday.

Britain, the former colonial ruler, has long been a sharp critic of Mugabe, and Miliband said he did not want to hand Mugabe's party propaganda points by endorsing a candidate and was not going to pre-empt official results.

"The delay in announcing the (official) outcome must be seen as a deliberate and calculated tactic," Miliband told lawmakers in London.

Speculation was rife that Mugabe loyalists were trying to buy time to rig results, even as people close to the electoral commission and the opposition reported secret negotiations to allow Mugabe to exit gracefully.

There also were fears of rising tensions as people stayed away from work to await results.

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Paramilitary police stepped up patrols in Harare and Bulawayo, the second city, and checked vehicles at roadblocks leading to the capital.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, a Nobel peace laureate, said Wednesday he feared violence, "given the brutality with which the authorities have in the past reacted."

At independence, Mugabe was hailed for his policies of racial reconciliation and development that brought education and health to millions who had been denied those services under colonial rule.

Zimbabwe's economy thrived on exports of food, minerals and tobacco.

The unraveling began when Mugabe ordered the often-violent seizures of white-owned commercial farms, ostensibly to return them to the landless black majority.

Instead, Mugabe replaced a white elite with a black one, giving the farms to relatives, friends and cronies who allowed cultivated fields to be taken over by weeds.

Today, a third of the population depends on imported food handouts.

Another third has fled the country and 80 per cent is jobless.

Inflation is the highest in the world at more than 100,000 per cent and people suffer crippling shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine.

Life expectancy has fallen from 60 to 35 years.

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