Zimbabwe opposition claims victory in presidential poll

April 3rd, 2008 - 12:22 am ICT by admin  

Harare, April 2 (DPA) Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Wednesday claimed victory and rejected the need for a second round of voting in the tense presidential contest between MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and long-time President Robert Mugabe. But a second round of voting, which the constitution calls for in the event neither candidate takes more than 50 percent, appeared likely after state media declared the two men were headed for a tie.

The MDC said it would participate in a runoff if needed, albeit “under protest”.

The MDC claimed victory based on their own count of results from Saturday’s combined presidential, parliamentary and local elections posted outside polling stations since Sunday.

The results showed “that Morgan Richard Tsvangirai is the next president of the Republic of Zimbabwe without (the need for) a runoff (vote),” MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti told a press conference in Harare to a huge applause.

Bright Matonga, a government spokesman, called the MDC declaration “a mischievous way to instigate an uprising” and warned the party to be “very careful”.

The MDC’s victory claim differs from its earlier such claims in that it is based on collated results from all polling stations, not just a sample.

Biti said Tsvangirai, 56, had taken 50.3 percent of the vote, against 43.8 percent for longtime President Robert Mugabe, 84, and 7 percent for former finance minister Simba Makoni, 58. It was not clear why their figures exceeded 100 percent.

The state-controlled Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has defied strident calls from the international community to release results from the presidential vote.

But the state-run Herald newspaper appeared to be preparing Zimbabweans for a runoff, noting results from the parliamentary election also held Saturday showed Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and the MDC headed for a tie in the 210-seat House of Assembly.

Biti said the MDC, because it considers it has an outright majority, would take part in a second round “under protest”, but preferred to spare Mugabe the “humiliation”.

The MDC quoted an estimate produced by the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network to back up its win claim.

Sources close to the MDC said Tuesday that the MDC, Zanu-PF and the military were in talks on the election outcome but the government and Tsvangirai have rejected rumours a deal had been struck on Mugabe’s exit.

The US earlier stopped short of calling on Mugabe to step aside but said it was “clear the people of Zimbabwe have voted for change”.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told his parliament that any runoff vote would have to meet the standards of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community, with whom Britain “remains in contact” about the Zimbabwe situation.

As tension mounts in Zimbabwe, South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for all sides to avoid bloodshed.

“The people of Zimbabwe have suffered enough,” he said in a BBC interview, suggesting a peacekeeping mission should be sent to the southern African country.

Saturday’s elections, which got a qualified thumbs-up from African observers despite widespread irregularities, including the presence of police in polling stations, was seen mainly as a vote on the economic chaos wrought by Mugabe’s populist policies, which have resulted in 100,000-percent inflation and brought millions to the brink of starvation.

Mugabe has been ruling Zimbabwe since the country’s independence in 1980.

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