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Anxious Zimbabweans wait as official election results trickle out, fueling rigging fears

Anxious Zimbabweans wait as official election results trickle out, fueling rigging fears

Zimbabwe's opposition claimed victory Monday in the elections, while a slow trickle in official results raised fears that supporters of longtime President Robert Mugabe were rigging the count.
Mugabe has been accused of stealing previous elections, but that was before Zimbabwe's once thriving farm economy nearly collapsed and before leading members of the ruling party openly defied him.
Independent observers said trends supported the main opposition party's contention that it was leading in the presidential race, but the monitors said the edge would not be enough to avoid a runoff.
"We have won an election. Mugabe's victory is not possible given the true facts," Tendai Biti, secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, told reporters.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission offered no results in the presidential race. And the body took 15 hours to release results from just 66 parliamentary seats out of the 128 contested.
The Movement for Democratic Change, led by labor leader Morgan Tsvangirai, won 36 of the races announced, while Mugabe's ruling party got 30. Five seats went to a breakaway faction of Tsvangirai's party.
Many people worried the slow pace of reporting tallies from Saturday's vote was to allow time to fix the results in the president's favor. But the delay could be a way to let authorities prepare for a revolutionary transition in power in this bitterly divided country.
Tsvangirai's party said he was leading the presidential race with 60 percent of votes, based on unofficial counts reported from 128 of the country's 210 parliamentary districts. It gave Mugabe 30 percent of votes and the rest to Simba Makoni, a former Mugabe loyalist.
Tsvangirai lost narrowly in the 2002 election according to official results, but observers charged that election was rigged.
The opposition party also claimed it had an overwhelming lead for 96 of the 128 up for grabs.
If such margins held, it would be a crushing blow for Mugabe, who headed the guerrilla movement that fought a seven-year bush war to end white-minority rule and bring democracy to Zimbabwe in 1980.
Mugabe was hailed then for his policies of racial reconciliation and development that brought education and health to millions denied those services before. 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 farm fields to be taken over by weeds.
Today, a third of the estimated 12 million Zimbabweans depend on imported food handouts, and another third have fled as economic and political refugees. Unemployment runs at 80 percent. Life expectancy has fallen from 60 to 35 years. Food, medicine, water, electricity and fuel are chronically short.
John Makumbe, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said the ruined economy had been Mugabe's downfall: "All other indications are the voting reflected Mugabe's massive loss of support because of the economy."
In a statement Monday, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network said that according to its sample of polling stations across the country, Tsvangirai had just over 49 percent of the vote. A presidential candidate needs at least 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.
Mugabe was projected to come in second with about 42 percent, and Makoni trailed at about 8 percent.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which groups 38 civic organizations, said it based its projections on tallies reported at a representative, random sample of 435 polling stations in Zimbabwe's 10 provinces. It said its figures were reviewed by an independent statistician.
In a joint statement late Monday after discussing Zimbabwe at a meeting in Paris, the foreign ministers of Britain _ long a sharp critic of Zimbabwe, where it was once the colonial power _ France, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain noted "with interest and admiration the reports from Zimbabwean civil society groups of specific results from polling stations around the country."
"We look forward to working with democratically elected Zimbabwean authorities, who will be expected to improve human rights and the rule of law for the good of the Zimbabwean people," the statement said.
The United States, Germany and the EU were among those calling for faster reporting of official results to ease tension and guard against fraud. Western nations have pushed for reforms in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's economy is in dramatically worse shape than during past elections, driving other changes in Zimbabwe's political landscape. Makoni's candidacy, which drew open support during the campaign from other leaders in the ruling party, brought splits among the elite into the open.
Pressure from Zimbabwe's neighbors also has stepped up. The vote results being reported by the opposition came from tallies posted on the doors of the 9,000 polling stations as part of an agreement among the parties negotiated by South African President Thabo Mbeki.
"One of the most important changes in this election was the posting of vote counts at individual polling stations," the independent monitoring group said.
Still, Mugabe has powerful backers who have benefited from his rule.
While younger army officers are reported to be losing patience with Mugabe, security chiefs said before the election that they would not accept an opposition victory.
Tendai Biti, secretary-general of Tsvangirai's party, worried that people might be "seduced into violence," which could create an excuse for a military crackdown.
"Zimbabweans are not a violent people and we hope people are not provoked into violence if official results differ from those posted at polling stations," he said.
Military officers and ruling party leaders receive mining concessions, construction contracts and preferential licenses to run transport companies and other businesses.
Authorized ruling party officials buy local currency from the government at the official rate of 30,000 to the U.S. dollar and then sell it on the black market at far better rates.
The favored also can buy state-subsidized gasoline. They have water tanks and generators to keep them comfortable as services crumble. While the poor line up in hopes of finding a loaf of bread they can afford, the rich shop at a well-stocked supermarket near Mugabe's Chinese-built, pagoda-like mansion in Harare's Borrowdale suburb.