Tallies Show Mugabe Vulnerable

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 31, 2008

CHINHOYI, Zimbabwe, March 30 -- A sheet of blue paper hanging on the notice board of a drab community hall told the tale of a remarkable upset:

President Robert Mugabe: 3,066 votes.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai: 8,154 votes.

For 28 years, Chinhoyi was part of Mugabe's hammerlock on rural Mashonaland, a region where his outsize victories helped balance out his eroding support in Zimbabwe's major cities. But evidence abounded Sunday that this pattern had collapsed across the nation, leaving Mugabe vulnerable to a historic defeat.

The electoral commission remained silent more than 24 hours after polls closed, but Zimbabweans took it upon themselves to tabulate results on pieces of paper gradually appearing outside 9,000 polling stations across the country.

The growing mosaic of information, though informally collected, suggested Mugabe was decisively trailing Tsvangirai. The opposition party claimed it was a landslide.

It remained far from clear whether Mugabe, 84, would step down or whether the results officially announced by an electoral commission controlled by his cronies would show anything but a Mugabe victory. But any rigging mechanisms have been undermined by the decision, for the first time in Zimbabwe, to post the results at polling stations.

"The results are there for everybody to see. People are going from station to station copying the results," said John Makumbe, a University of Zimbabwe political analyst and longtime critic of Mugabe. "It will be very difficult to manipulate them and say that the result at the polling station was wrong."

Despite 100,000 percent inflation, 80 percent unemployment and chronic food shortages, few analysts a week ago were predicting a victory for Tsvangirai, 56, a former trade unionist whose opposition party lost elections in 2000, 2002 and 2005. As recently as last month, some picked him to come in third, behind former Mugabe finance minister Simba Makoni, 58, running as an independent.

But the final days before Saturday's vote revealed a powerful surge of enthusiasm for Tsvangirai as Mugabe and Makoni faltered. Political discussion shifted from guessing which candidate would get the most votes to a debate over how Mugabe would react to a Tsvangirai victory.

On Sunday, reports of upsets spread across Zimbabwe with remarkable speed for a country where public transport is beyond the means of most people and cellphone networks are so beleaguered that perhaps one call in 20 is successful. Tallies assembled by Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and others showed that several of Mugabe's most senior cabinet ministers had lost their seats in parliament.

The opposition claimed victory for Tsvangirai at 1 a.m. Sunday based on partial results. By 11 a.m., the posted results made the trend clearer. The party's secretary general, Tendai Biti, announced, "We have won."

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