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Zimbabwe Waits

Author: Stephanie Hanson
Updated: April 3, 2008

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An uneasy quiet has followed Zimbabwe’s March 29 elections. The country’s electoral commission has yet to announce results from the presidential poll, though official results show that the ruling party, ZANU-PF, lost control of parliament. The opposition MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, says its final tally shows him with 50.3 percent of the vote (NYT), scarcely enough to avoid a runoff with President Robert Mugabe. As the country waits in anticipation of presidential results, Zimbabweans and international observers worry that Mugabe supporters could rig the outcome and wonder what the vote might mean for the country’s future.

Informal results and news reports indicate that the opposition gained ground in the presidential vote in rural areas traditionally loyal to Mugabe. Results—posted at individual polling stations for the first time—quickly circulated (WashPost) throughout the country the day following the election. As local observers learned of the numbers, many proclaimed the vote a “tsunami for MDC” (NYT). Yet Zimbabwe's state-run newspaper, The Herald, says “a run-off appears the most likely outcome.”

The election bears a resemblance to Zimbabwe’s 2002 polls, after which the opposition also claimed early victory. Amid widespread reports of vote rigging, Mugabe was pronounced the election’s winner with 52 percent of the vote. Yet unlike in 2002, experts say the posting of results by precinct has given this election some measure of transparency.

Faced with waning support before the polls, Mugabe appeared to be on the defensive. Zimbabwe’s government debt increased 65-fold in a six-week period preelection, with the government raising salaries for security forces as well as purchasing farm equipment ( FT). According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Mugabe suspects high-level military and intelligence officials of allegiance with presidential candidate Simba Makoni. Security groups now control many political institutions in Zimbabwe, as this new Backgrounder explains, so a shift in their allegiances could spell trouble for the president.

Given the uncertain political climate, analysts are concerned about the immediate aftermath of the polls. If the outcome is disputed, or if Mugabe fails to win outright in the first round, some believe he will resort to violence. “The violence has so far been contained, more or less, but if the election goes to two rounds it'll go right up,” a former ZANU-PF minister who has joined Makoni tells the Economist. Sydney Masamvu of the International Crisis Group tells CFR.org that if the election goes to a second round, ZANU-PF and the security groups will likely support Makoni.

Experts say international actors, barred from sending electoral observers, should start preparing for the election’s aftermath and the potential transition to a post-Mugabe government. In a new report, the International Crisis Group suggests that the African Union should be ready to mediate between presidential candidates in the event of a disputed poll. A recent Council Special Report recommends the United States spearhead the creation of an international trust fund to assist a transition government with reform and reconstruction.

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