ZIMBABWE: Tension rises as opposition claims landslide

Monday, March 31, 2008

While Zimbabwe’s opposition on Sunday claimed a landslide victory, no official results from the 29 March polls have been released by the electoral commission, cranking up the tension surrounding the vote count.

Christian Alliance, a grouping of pro-democracy church organisations, said the “deep silence” from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was causing undue alarm.

“To avoid any further distress, and in order to calm all the citizens, we urgently appeal to ZEC and other relevant authorities to immediately release all results that are now available. Any further delay could lead to unpredictable and undesirable behaviour by the citizens as they continue to rely on unofficial results,” Bishop Levy Kadenge, the Christian Alliance convenor, told IRIN.

Those unofficial results put the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai well ahead in urban areas - as was expected. But the party has also reportedly done remarkably well in the countryside, the traditional stronghold of President Robert Mugabe. Several cabinet ministers and leading members of the ruling ZANU-PF party may have lost their seats, which set off celebrations in the capital, Harare.

"We are not in any doubt. We are heading for a landslide victory, we have won many seats … throughout the country,” a senior MDC official commented.

The MDC’s count was based on the results posted outside each voting centre on Sunday morning. But they are yet to be endorsed by the ZEC, which wants to scrutinise the returns from each constituency at its “Command Centre”, set up at the Harare Conference Centre. “I’m as anxious as you are to know the outcome of the election,” ZEC chairman George Chiweshe told journalists.

The opposition alleges that the delay in releasing the results is evidence that electoral fraud is underway. "They have the figures, everyone saw the figures. They were shocked into immobility by what they saw. They are now trying to cook the figures,” claimed a political analyst, who asked not to be named.

ZEC, whose chair and six members are appointed by Mugabe, has been widely criticized by the opposition and civil society for alleged partiality and lack of capacity to run the three elections – local, parliamentary and presidencial - held on Saturday. Former freedom fighter Mugabe, 84, has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

Free and fair
ZEC chief elections officer, Lovemore Sekeramayi, went on national television and radio to warn the opposition against releasing voting figures. “Those results are not official. The official results will be announced to the nation by the commission and we urge the nation to bear with us while we complete the process of collation and verification."

Meanwhile, the head of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) observer mission, Jose Marcos Barrica, said despite concerns over media bias and pro-Mugabe remarks by the military top brass, the elections were a “credible expression of the will of the people”.

Voting on Saturday was peaceful with thousands of voters camping outside polling stations from 4 a.m – three hours before doors opened. Tendai McNab had come equipped with a folding chair. "When I last voted in 2000, I spent more than 10 hours in the queue, but this time I am prepared. I will just patiently while reading a book."

A heavily pregnant Tendai Munyoro, waiting outside the polling station at David Livingstone School in Harare, said she wanted to cast her ballot for the good of her children. "I declared to myself that no matter what condition I would be in, I would cast my vote."

South Africa-based political activist Nixon Nyikadzino said thousands of Zimbabweans, who had migrated across the border to escape the country’s long-running economic and political crisis, had trooped back home to cast their vote. "Over the last months, discussions in South Africa have been about arranging transport to come back and vote … Huge numbers have also come back from countries within the region such as Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and Namibia."

Source: IRIN