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Vote Rigging Fears Cloud Zimbabwe Election

BY Admin  March 31, 2008 at 3:35 PM EST

Zimbabweans listen to election results; AP photo

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Changes said vote counts it saw posted at more than half of the polling stations in the country showed Tsvangirai taking 60 percent of the vote over 30 percent for Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980.

But the government’s electoral commission was telling a different story, with results released for only 38 races in the lower House of Assembly, giving 19 wins to the ruling party and 19 to the opposition. It said nothing about the presidential contest.

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

The Movement for Democratic Change said the opposition won 96 seats of the 128 for which it had gathered results. Parliamentary and local council balloting was held alongside the presidential vote.

Election observers said some initial results were known as early as Saturday night, hours after polls closed. In previous elections, partial results have been announced within hours of voting ending.

Two South African members of a regional observer mission said the delay in announcing the election results “underscores the fear that vote-rigging is taking place,” reported Reuters.

The slow official reporting process “only goes to raise tension among the people,” said Movement for Democratic Change secretary-general of Tendai Biti, according to the Associated Press.

Mugabe, 84, faces unprecedented pressure because of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse and attacks by veteran opposition politicians. Zimbabwe is suffering the world’s highest inflation of more than 100,000 percent, 80 percent unemployment, chronic shortages of food and fuel and an HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Tsvangirai, 56, narrowly lost disputed 2002 elections, and the opposition said it would take to the streets in peaceful protest if this year’s vote was rigged.

Britain, Germany and the EU called for faster reporting Monday to ease tension, while the United States urged Zimbabwe to “do the right thing” as it counts the votes. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the United States “strongly encourages” the electoral commission to honor the will of the Zimbabwean people.

“It is no secret that the Zimbabwean electoral commission has a partisan cast to it and we would certainly hope that regardless of the partisan sympathies of any members of that commission, that they would again follow the letter and spirit of the law,” Casey said.