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Delayed Zimbabwe Vote Tally Points to Future Runoff

May 2, 2008 at 10:15 AM EDT
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Zimbabwe's electoral commission announced the results of the nation's election on Friday, more than a month since voters went to the polls. As the country now gears up for a runoff, a National Public Radio reporter discusses the details behind the commission's statement.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The first of two Africa stories. It has been more than a month since people voted in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe. And the outcome is still in doubt. Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, may be embattled, but he’s bought himself more time.

Today, after weeks of delay, the government’s electoral commission announced that his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, had won the March 29 presidential election, but he was 2.2 percentage points shy of the clear majority he’d need to avoid a runoff against President Mugabe.

So what happens next? For that, we talk to Ofeibea Quist-Arcton of National Public Radio. She was in Zimbabwe right after the election and is now covering developments there from South Africa.

Opposition claims outright victory

MARGARET WARNER: And, Ofeibea, welcome back to the program. What was the reaction today to this announcement in Zimbabwe?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, National Public Radio: From the government side, they say the Zimbabweans have spoken and that there's going to be a second-round runoff, pitting President Robert Mugabe against his political foe, Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

But on the opposition side, they say that this vote is a scandal, and that the results are criminal, and that they have been doctored and engineered by President Robert Mugabe's party, and that they will not be taking part in the runoff, because Morgan Tsvangirai, their candidate, they claim, won outright victory in the first round and so he is the next president of Zimbabwe.

So that's how it's looking.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how can the opposition -- on what evidence does the opposition say that they know that Tsvangirai got just over 50 percent, rather than 47.9 percent, as the electoral commission said?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Now, one positive thing about these disputed elections is that, for the first time -- and this was negotiated by the regional Southern African community -- is that the election results had to be posted outside the polling stations.

This is the first time it's happened in Zimbabwe's history. And it's on those, on the strength of those results, that the opposition is claiming that its candidate won more than 50 percent, the 50-percent-plus-one vote that it needs to win outright.

So they're sticking to that story. And for the past few weeks, they've been saying they're not going to take part in a runoff.

But before that, they said that they would consider taking part in a second round election, but only if the polls were observed by the United Nations and what they called "credible monitors," which they claim did not happen in the first round.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, what other options does Tsvangirai have? I mean, if he doesn't go into the runoff, where does he go? What happens? Doesn't Mugabe then just become -- remain as president?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Well, this is the question. Are they going to boycott or not? Because they've boycotted previous elections and then felt that they had no voice.

But the opposition has decided that what it's going to do is travel around Africa, travel around the world, travel to the U.S., travel to the U.N., and say, as loud as it can, that it has been cheated of electoral victory and that it wants the international community, now specifically the United Nations and the African Union, to act to stop.

And it's not just talking about what it says is an election that it has been robbed of, victory robbed of, but it's talking about this campaign of violence it accuses President Mugabe's supporters of mounting against the opposition, against people who are seen to have voted the wrong way, i.e., against the president.

And it's not just the opposition saying this. It's also human rights organizations; it's also church leaders who are saying that President Mugabe's supporters have decided to unleash a campaign of intimidation, fear and violence to cow Zimbabweans so that, in case there was a second round, they would be too frightened to vote for the opposition.

So the saga continues.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, is this campaign of violence and intimidation in a practical sense enough, in fact, to keep -- if there is a silent majority in Zimbabwe, that, in fact, wants a change -- to actually keep them from going to the polls and ultimately voting to oust Mugabe?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: You know, you wonder whether it's the violence that has been unleashed -- and the government is also accusing the opposition of having mounted a campaign of violence.

But Zimbabweans are struggling every day with basic things, like shortages of food, of fuel, of money, trying to find fees to send their children to school. So this political hiatus that they've had for the past five weeks, this electoral limbo, of course it's important to them.

Many went out to vote. Many say they voted for change. But on the other hand, while the politicians are bickering, Zimbabweans are trying to make ends meet.

And I think a lot of them, apart from the intimidation and fear factor, are just fed up. They want a better life. They've got an economy that is completely on its knees. And they want to see their children grow up in a stronger, better Zimbabwe.

And if that means that they'll have to live with President Mugabe, I think a lot of them will regret it, but I think they want peace, stability and prosperity.

Mugabe digs in

MARGARET WARNER: Now, who are these, quote, "pro-government militias" carrying out these attacks? I see they describe themselves sometimes as war veterans, but aren't most of them way too young to have fought in the war for independence or liberation from the British, what, nearly 30 years ago?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: You know what they fire back at you, is that, "We had several 'kimurangas' [ph]," revolutions, the one that tried to push out the British back in the 19th century, and then the war of liberation of which, of course, Robert Mugabe, as the liberation -- the political leader of the liberation struggle, was considered a hero.

But those who support President Mugabe say there's a third kimuranga [ph] now, there's a third revolution, a third liberation war. They say this is against near colonialism, against the former colonial power, Britain, against Washington, and the names of Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, and President George Bush, and others, are always cited in the rhetoric that President Mugabe is so fond of.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, very briefly, do you think there will be a runoff?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Now, that is the $60 million question. I think that's what the government is going to keep pushing for.

But because there is so much international opprobrium, because President Robert Mugabe is considered very much a pariah leader, the leader of a pariah state, I think there's going to have to be a lot of external intervention, especially from the United Nations.

Now, the president says that Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the U.N., has taken sides and that he has supported the opposition, so I think it's going to be a very, very difficult few weeks ahead for Zimbabwe.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton of National Public Radio, thanks so much.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: A pleasure.