Zimbabwe was awash Tuesday with rumours President Robe rt Mugabe may have lost Saturday’s crunch poll, and dragging feet by election officials in releasing full results of the election was an attempt by the authorities to rig the outcome.
Three days after the vote, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), was just releasing results of the parliamentary segment of the poll, appealing for more time for the presidential vote count and announcement.
Even in the parliamentary vote, the commission has been unusually slow in releasing the results, only passing the halfway mark of the 105-seat parliament.
ZEC has been mum on the presidential vote, only telling the public to be patient because verification and collating were taking long.
But this has drawn impatience instead, and prompted speculation that Mugabe may have lost to the main opposition challenger Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The unexpectedly strong showing by the opposition in the election, which combined presidential, lower and upper houses of parliament and local government, is fueling the speculation.
In the lower house of parliament, Mugabe’s ruling party is running neck and neck with Tsvangirai’s party.
After a vote count in 131 constituencies, the ruling ZANU-PF party had won 68 se ats, and the MDC 67. A breakaway faction of Tsvangirai’s party had garnered six seats.
The results, in fact, showered Mugabe’s party was trailing the combined tally of the opposition.
Analysts said this indicated that the veteran 84-year old leader was losing in the presidential segment of the poll, as the breakaway faction of Tsvangirai’s party did not contest the presidency.
Also, independent agencies tallying the officially announced results, and conducting exit polls, said the picture pointed to a loss for Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe uninterrupted for 28 years.
One of these, the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network, Tuesday said indications were that Mugabe secured 30 per cent of the vote, to Tsvangirai’s 49 per cent.
But ZEC said this was a mere speculation, and the public should not take this seriously.
“We would like to urge the nation to remain patient as we go through this meticulous verification process,” ZEC director Lovemore Sekeramayi said.
The opposition, which jumped into celebration Sunday after rumours spread it had won overwhelmingly based on early returns, is accusing the authorities of planning to rig the election.
Top MDC official, Tendai Biti, has said the party’s own count had shown Tsvangirai had secured more than 60 per cent of the presidential vote.
He warned of unspecified action if the vote, the most-closely fought in Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, was ‘stolen.’
ZEC said Tuesday it was unsure when the presidential outcome of the election wou ld be announced, deepening anxiety in the country.
In past elections, results would be announced a day after polling. But ZEC said it was overwhelmed this time by the volume of work involved in running four elec t ions simultaneously.
The public, deeply hurt by Zimbabwe’s unprecedented economic crisis, is not, how ever, buying that, and widely suspects rigging was underway in Mugabe’s favour.
The Zimbabwean leader has denied he planned to rig the elections.
Almost six million voters were registered to take part in the poll.
Both the army and police have been placed on full alert to quell any election-re lated violence that might arise. Panapress.