Mugabe’s Party Loses Control of Parliament

“We maintain that we have won the presidential election outright without the need for a run-off,” Movement for Democratic Change General Secretary Tendai Biti told a news conference on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.

Official results for the presidential race have not been published by the election commission. In the parliamentary election, results gave 105 seats to the Movement for Democratic Change or MDC and 94 seats to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF.

Nine seats went to a breakaway party and one went to an independent. Even if ZANU-PF wins all the remaining seats, it will not win enough to hold a majority in the 210-seat parliament.

Mugabe’s aides dismissed the MDC claim, hinting the opposition could be penalized for publishing its own tallies, according to Reuters.

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told Sky television: “President Mugabe is going nowhere. We are not going to be pressurized into anything.”

Mugabe, a former guerilla leader known for his fierce rhetoric, has ruled Zimbabwe since the country’s independence from Britain. His party has been accused of past vote-rigging to maintain his hold over the country. In 2000, Mugabe launched a land redistribution campaign to turn white-owned farms over to blacks, a move that was blamed for sending the country into a downward economic spiral. As a result, 2008 inflation is estimated at 100,000 percent, unemployment is at 80 percent and a third of the country depends on imported food handouts.

His party was also accused of rigging the 2002 presidential election between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, after votes for Mugabe poured in at the last-minute to hand him a victory, overcoming an early lead for Tsvangirai.

In the 2008 results, Biti said Tsvangirai won 50.3 percent of the vote compared to 43.8 percent for Mugabe but was unable to confirm these percentages with numbers of votes.

To avoid a repeat of 2002, MDC observers photographed the vote tallies at each polling station as results were posted.

“Robert Mugabe has said he’s an honest man,” Tsvangirai said in a Tuesday evening press conference. “I hope that when results are announced it’s a true reflection of the vote and that there’s no reason to investigate fraudulent activities.”

A run-off will be held if neither candidate secures 50 percent of the vote and must be conducted within 21 days of the first round. The third candidate, independent Simba Makoni, pulled votes from both parties and would not participate in the runoff.

Biti claimed Tsvangirai won an absolute victory and a run-off was not required, but said his party would participate in a run-off “under protest.”

On Tuesday, there were rumors that the two parties were in talks for Mugabe to step down and transfer power to the opposition, but Tsvangirai and the government denied these claims.

The United States weighed in on the situation from Bucharest where President Bush is attending a NATO summit. “We continue to monitor the situation and expect the will of the people of Zimbabwe to be respected,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.