By Angus Shaw
Sunday, April 27, 2008
HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 26 -- Zimbabwe's opposition appeared set to retain its gains in parliament Saturday, as international pressure mounted for the release of results from the presidential vote that longtime leader Robert Mugabe is believed to have lost.
Mugabe has been accused of using delays, fraud and violence to hold onto power. Even if he retains the presidency, he will have to deal with a defiant parliament.
Early results showed Mugabe's party losing control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980. His government reacted by calling for recounts in 23 seats, but so far, the recounts have confirmed the original tallies.
On Saturday, the electoral commission confirmed the results in 10 disputed parliamentary votes: Six seats were taken by the opposition and four by Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, known as ZANU-PF.
Original results from the March 29 election showed that opposition groups won 110 seats to Mugabe's 97. Three seats are vacant, awaiting by-elections after the deaths of candidates.
The electoral commission also said Saturday that the long-awaited presidential results will be released in the coming days unless any of the tallies are challenged.
The opposition and an independent Zimbabwean observer group say the opposition also won the presidential race, based on their own surveys of results posted at individual polling stations.
On Friday, security forces raided the offices of the opposition and the independent observers, seizing materials related to the count.
Police confirmed Saturday that they had arrested 215 people in a raid on opposition headquarters in Harare. They also said they searched the offices of the observer group, the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network, for evidence that the Western-funded organization bribed state election officials to rig polling results.
The opposition said those arrested were seeking refuge after being attacked by ruling party loyalists in the countryside.
There had been reports of beatings of those being held in various police stations across the city, said human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama. They have not been charged with any offenses.
Human rights groups and independent religious groups say hundreds of opposition supporters have been abducted, tortured and assaulted in recent weeks in a violent crackdown on dissent.
Meanwhile, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa was in the region rallying support for democracy in Zimbabwe. Jendayi Frazer on Saturday left Mugabe-friendly Angola for Zambia, whose president has been unusually critical of his Zimbabwean counterpart.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a Mugabe loyalist, criticized Frazer for her statements earlier in the week backing claims that Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the presidential vote, state media reported Saturday.
Chinamasa called Frazer's remarks "patently false, inflammatory, irresponsible and uncalled-for." Though presidential results had not been completed, tallies posted outside polling stations "point to a runoff" between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reported.