Zimbabwe Voting Results Will Force Leadership Runoff

Opposition leader Tsvangirai got 47.9 percent.
Opposition leader Tsvangirai got 47.9 percent. (Denis Farrell - AP)
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Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 3, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe, May 2 -- Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won more votes than President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe's presidential election but not enough to avoid a runoff, according to official results released Friday after a delay of more than a month.

The electoral commission said Tsvangirai won 47.9 percent, compared with 43.2 percent for Mugabe. An independent candidate, Simba Makoni, won 8.3 percent.

The constitution requires a runoff between the top two candidates if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the votes. Election officials said they will soon announce a date for the second round, which is required by law to take place within 21 days.

Despite Tsvangirai's strong showing and his party's takeover of parliament, the opposition had no clear path to power in this beleaguered nation, where a ruling clique in power since 1980 has shown little interest in stepping aside.

Opposition officials, who insist they won the presidential election outright, said they will decide over the weekend whether to participate in a second round of voting that they view as unnecessary. They complained that the results were released improperly and that their concerns about the tallies in several electoral districts were brushed aside.

The opposition's own tallies put Tsvangirai's total at 50.3 percent, just enough for a first-round victory.

"It's a scandal. It's criminal," opposition spokesman Nelson Chamisa said. "As far as we're concerned, we have won."

The delay in releasing the results from the March 29 vote has drawn international criticism, including from other countries in southern Africa, where Mugabe's increasingly destructive rule has rarely been publicly rebuked. The United States and Britain reiterated their concerns Friday.

"This isn't a case of better late than never," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey. "That final tally, I think, has rather serious credibility problems, given the inexplicably long delays and some of the post-election irregularities that have occurred."

The extra time appears to have suited Mugabe's strategy for hanging on to power. After several initial days of confusion, when some of his closest supporters urged him to step down, the ruling party reasserted control over rural areas with a surge of violence and intimidation. Hundreds of opposition activists were arrested or injured, and thousands were displaced.

Many of the top leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change, including Tsvangirai, have been outside the country on diplomatic missions since shortly after the vote. Tsvangirai has said repeatedly that he faces arrest or assault when he returns.

As Tsvangirai's party wrangled over whether to boycott the runoff, Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front said it would welcome either another election or an opposition boycott.

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