HARARE, April 3 – Zimbabweans waited anxiously on Thursday for an end to a deafening official silence over the outcome of their presidential election, after the opposition took control of parliament.
The country’s electoral commission wrapped up final results on the parliamentary contest in the early hours, in which President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) lost its majority to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Mugabe now faces the prospect of defeat in the presidential contest to his arch-rival MDC chief Morgan
Tsvangirai, who Mugabe recently pledged would never rule in his lifetime.
Frustrated with the silence from the commission, the MDC pre-emptively released its own results on Wednesday indicating that Tsvangirai had won the presidency with more than 50 percent of votes.
While Mugabe’s government was quick to condemn the announcement, diplomatic sources indicated intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations were underway to ensure a smooth exit for the veteran leader, in power for three decades.
The MDC’s secretary-general Tendai Biti told a press conference in Harare that Tsvangirai had won 50.2 percent of votes against 43.8 percent for Mugabe.
"Put simply he has won this election … Morgan Richard Tsvangirai is the next president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, without a run-off."
Biti said the government was trying to massage the results and pointed to a front-page story in Wednesday’s Herald newspaper that said there was now likely to be a run-off as neither man had a clear majority.
"The state media has already begun to prepare the people for a run-off … If that is the position, this party will contest the run-off."
In the parliamentary contest, which was finally wrapped up in the early hours with an announcement from the electoral commission, the MDC won 109 seats against 97 for ZANU-PF. An independent candidate, former information minister Jonathan Moyo, also retained his seat in the 210-member chamber.
The situation is slightly complicated by a split in MDC ranks, with 10 of the newly-elected lawmakers belonging to a faction at odds with Tsvangirai.
Three candidates died in the build-up to the polls and elections in their constituencies will take place at a later date.
With 84-year-old Mugabe’s grip on power starting to loosen, diplomatic sources said there was a concerted effort to persuade him to stand down with dignity after a 28-year rule which began at independence.
In South Africa, Nobel prize winner and anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu said he hoped Mugabe would "step down with dignity."
"That is democracy … I mean when your time is over, your time is over."
The economy of Zimbabwe has been in meltdown since the start of the decade, with inflation now standing at over 100,000 percent and unemployment at beyond 80 percent. Even basic foodstuffs such as bread are now in scarce supply.