Saturday, May 10, 2008

Zimbabwe Announces Election Runoff

May 3, 2008
Zimbabwe Announces Election Runoff

JOHANNESBURG — After more than a month of delay, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Friday announced that opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai had beaten President Robert Mugabe, but not by an outright majority, forcing the two into a runoff.

A spokesman for the opposition immediately denounced the commission for short circuiting a vote verification process that was supposed to have allowed either side to challenge the official tallies. The opposition has long claimed that it won a clear — though bare — majority.

According to election officials, Mr. Tsvangirai won 47.9 percent of the vote to Mr. Mugabe’s 43.2 percent. The third major candidate, Simba Makoni, an independent who broke away from the president’s governing party, the ZANU-PF, took 8.3 percent of the vote.

Election officials did not announce a date for a runoff, but the law requires it be held within three weeks.

The long delay in announcing the results fanned the country’s deepening and increasingly violent political crisis, in which opposition supporters have been beaten, arrested and harassed. It also led to widespread accusations in Zimbabwe and abroad that Mr. Mugabe, who has led the nation with a firm grip for 28 years, was trying to manipulate the outcome and ward off a defeat for him and his ruling party.

The process of verifying the disputed presidential vote started only on Thursday afternoon, and opposition leaders were predicting it would take days, if not weeks, to complete. They said they were shocked Friday when election officials released the final tally before the opposition had a chance to challenge the count or reach a consensus with the ruling party about it.

During the Mar. 29 election, the results were publicly posted at each of more than 9,000 polling stations for the first time. An independent alliance of civic groups that monitored the election used a statistical sample from the polling stations to project that Mr. Tsvangirai led Mr. Mugabe, perhaps by enough to avoid a runoff.

The results released today and those claimed by the opposition both fall within the range of outcomes the election monitors said were plausible — 47 percent to 51.8 percent for Mr. Tsvangirai.

The opposition, which photographed thousands of the results at those stations, claimed it won 50.3 percent of the vote. By contrast, ministers in Mr. Mugabe’s government had maintained for weeks that neither had won a majority, so a runoff would be necessary against Mr. Tsvangirai.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change, said Friday that the commission’s decision to release the result today was “scandalous,” ensuring that Zimbabwe’s political turmoil is far from at an end.

“They arrogantly announced the result,” he said. “We are really disturbed. They did not verify the results. They did not give us an opportunity to contest the results. They are waylaying the people’s will.”

But Mr. Chamisa was noncommittal on the crucial question of whether Mr. Tsvangirai would participate in a runoff. “That decision will come at the appropriate time by the leadership of the Movement for Democratic Change,” he said.

In recent weeks, the opposition, church leaders and human rights groups have reported increasing violence and intimidation against opposition supporters, often asserting that a slow-motion coup was underway in Zimbabwe, with the security forces exerting ever greater sway.

Human Rights Watch has accused the army of providing supporters of ZANU-PF with arms and trucks for a campaign of violence against the opposition. The Movement for Democratic Change has said that 20 of its members have been killed by pro-government militias since the election.

The state-run newspaper, The Herald, reported on Thursday that the police said the opposition p9 a gallon, and June heating oil futures rose 8.78 cents to settle at $3.3065 a gallon. June natural gas futures rose 40.1 cents to settle at $11.178 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, June Brent crude futures gained $3.43 to settle at $117.99 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Associated Press Writers Yahya Barzanji in Iraq, George Jahn in Vienna and Gillian Wong in Singapore contributed to this report.

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