Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Zimbabwe elections: Tsvangirai is leader in waiting

It was a moment many believed they would never see. Zimbabwe's ruling party lost control of parliament yesterday and this time the news was official.

One of the longest electoral teases in history finally delivered as Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission confirmed that the opposition had won control of the House of Assembly. Robert Mugabe's all-powerful Zanu-Patriotic Front was forced to concede defeat and the only question that remains is whether the 84-year-old will now follow suit and give up the presidency.

The respected opposition senator David Coltart, a long-time adversary of Mr Mugabe, said the "Liberator's" options were shrinking. "The moment the nation realises that he has lost the House of Assembly is the moment he has lost in the national psyche," he explained.

The day began with The Herald newspaper, a government mouthpiece, declaring the election was tied and predicting a run-off. This was already a serious concession from a paper that closely reflects the thinking of the Mugabe regime, and had previously predicted a crushing win for him.

In the space of a few dramatic and tense hours in the capital, Harare, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) first announced that its man, Morgan Tsvangirai, had won the presidency according to its figures. Then it was the turn of the painfully prosaic Electoral Commission to confirm that the ruling party had lost control of the parliament.

According to MDC figures, Mr Tsvangirai took 50.3 per cent of the vote in Saturday's election to Mr Mugabe's 43.8 per cent, a share which if accepted would hand him a narrow first-round victory. The MDC based its findings on publicly available results posted outside polling stations nationwide and then collated by party officials.

The official results of the presidential vote have still not been released more than four days after polls closed. Already there are serious concerns among independent observers that the commission has been "padding" Zanu-PF's share.

The incomplete official count for the parliamentary poll showed the MDC had taken 105 seats, a breakaway faction 9 and an independent one in the 210-seat parliament, making it impossible for the ruling party, which gained 94 seats, to win a majority.

The smaller opposition group has confirmed to The Independent that it will help form a majority against Zanu-PF.

For a party and a president accustomed only to winning, the twin announcements came as a huge shock. Bright Matonga, the deputy information minister, was initially speechless on hearing the result, but then attempted to brazen it out: "We don't have a problem; there is no panic here. That [the vote results] is the wish of the people and we, Zanu-PF, respect that."

The competing announcements of the day were only the public face of frantic political and diplomatic discussions behind the scenes.

The tale of two Harares is one of five-star hotels and luxurious havens surrounded by disintegrating roads, burnt-out traffic lights and desperate, starving people. The attempts to broker a negotiated settlement between the competing ambitions of the security forces, opposition parties and governing elite take place in the former – a surreal place almost completely divorced from the struggles of ordinary people.

One senior Western diplomat who had been convinced on Tuesday that there would be no run-off was backtracking yesterday. "A run-off is looking more likely," he conceded.

Last night, calmer voices within the ruling party were attempting to caution against any attempt to brush off the vote and declare a win, warning that the loyalty of the rank-and-file in the army and police cannot be counted on.

Sources close to the back-channel communications between the rival parties said the likeliest solution remained a negotiated settlement that would install a power-sharing government presided over by Mr Tsvangirai.

However, as Zimbabwe's democratic drama entered its sixth day, no one could be certain that logic would dictate the outcome.


From Belfast Telegraph