The first results in Zimbabwe’s historic election are trickling in against the backdrop of political rivals engaged in bitter accusations and recriminations over the vote and security forces are on the streets amid apprehension that anger over the outcome may turn into violence.
Initial figures announced by the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) showed that out of the constituencies declared so far , 30 have gone to the ruling Zanu-PF, and eight to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) alliance and one to the Robert and Grace Mugabe-sponsored National Patriotic Front (NPF). The outcome in the remaining 203 constituencies, and the race for the Presidency, is expected to be known in the next 48 hours although, officially, the Commission has another four days to make them public.
As the opposition renewed accusations of fraud there was a rise in the presence of the police and water cannons, in Harare. It was the first overt sign of the security forces patrolling the streets of the capital in an election campaign which had remained largely peaceful despite a grenade attack in a rally addressed by the acting President, 75 year old Emmerson Mnangagwa, a month ago.
The MDC declared it has won the election, the first for nearly four decades without Mr Mugabe being in power, and that it was taking legal action to force the election authorities to start announcing results from the 210 constituencies nationally much more rapidly. Any delay, it claimed, would give more scope for Zanu-PF to manipulate the outcome.
Tendai Biti, a MDC official and former finance minister, said: “Some election results that were supposed to be posted outside voting stations were not available and there has been a deliberate interference with the people’s will, shown by delays in announcing the elections results.”
The MDC, however, later modified its position, saying it was not the party but civic society groups who were taking the legal action. No confirmation of this has come from any of the groups.
The MDC maintains that mandatory voting results form were not posted at more than 20 per cent of the country’s polling stations in an effort to hide the fact that it had won. However, the 40 year old opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, had been claiming he had won even before voting had taken place, addressing his rallies as “President” Chamisa, and, according to a number of diplomatic sources, the ruling Zanu-PF may be edging into pole position, although they acknowledge that is not certain and the result is expected to be close.
With repeated declarations of victory coming from their leaders, MDC supporters began to gather outside party headquarters in the afternoon. The mood was celebratory with dancing to music mounted on a lorry. But there was annoyance and anger as water cannon trucks passed them twice on the road heading for the city centre.
“I hope they are not going to be used against the people. I hope Zanu-PF are not up to their tricks again to steal the election as they have done in the past”, said 26 year old Evermore Tsitsi taking a break from the dancing. “ If they are, there will be big trouble, big trouble”. His companion, Andrew Tawananyasha, 29, wanted to stress that “ZEC has shown that it cannot be trusted."
"It is working with Zanu-PF," Mr Tawananyasha said. "In the past we have backed down to avoid bloodshed, but this time we must seize our chance, we shall fight of we have to, we are prepared.”
Mr Chamisa has stated a number of times that there would be protest marches if he was denied victory through fraud, adding that they would be peaceful.
ZEC insisted that the election has been fought cleanly. “The atmosphere has remained peaceful” said its chairwoman Priscilla Chigumba. “We will not subvert anything. We have not received any major complaint about how the election was conducted."
One candidate must get more than 50 per cent of the votes, under the constitution, to win the election with a second round run-off scheduled for September if this does not happen. MDC claimed that one of reasons it is claiming victory is a late boost given by Robert Mugabe backing Mr Chamisa. The former President, the longest serving head of state in Africa until his overthrow eight months ago, said at a press conference that he would not back Zanu-PF, the party he once led and that of Mr Mnangagwa, his former Vice-President who replaced him.
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