Zimbabwe Releases First Election Results

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission began announcing official results Monday of elections the opposition party claims to have won, after a delay that heightened fears of rigging and brought security forces onto the streets.

In an early morning nationwide broadcast on radio and television, the deputy chief elections officer, Utoile Silaigwana, announced the results for six parliament seats - three of which went to President Robert Mugabe's ruling party and three to the opposition.

Then he went off the air saying, "We'll be back with you when we have more results."

The piecemeal announcement could not be explained since election observers have said some initial results were known as early as 11 p.m. Saturday night, some four hours after polls closed. In previous elections, partial results have been announced within hours of voting ending.

"Clearly the delay is fueling speculation that something might be going on," said Noel Kututwa, chairman of a network of civic, church and other groups.

Voting in Saturday's elections - which presented Mugabe, 84, with the toughest challenge ever to his 28-year rule - was generally peaceful. Discontent with Mugabe has grown around the country, where unemployment stands at 80 percent. The same percentage of Zimbabweans survives on less than $1 a day. Inflation is the highest in the world at more than 100,000 percent and people suffer crippling shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine.

Running against Mugabe is chief opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, 55, who narrowly lost disputed 2002 elections, and former ruling party loyalist and finance minister Simba Makoni, 58.

If no presidential candidate wins 50 percent plus one vote, there will be a runoff.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change said he was leading the presidential race with 67 percent of votes, basing its unofficial count on returns from 35 percent of polling stations nationwide.

The party also claimed to have taken some of Mugabe's rural strongholds. The claims were based on results posted overnight on the doors of polling stations.

Security and government officials loyal to Mugabe have warned Tsvangirai against declaring a victory. "It is called a coup d'etat and we all know how coups are handled," chief presidential spokesman George Charamba was quoted as saying in the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper.

Two officials of the ruling party said Mugabe was consulting with his security chiefs Sunday night amid fears of how they might react to any news of his defeat. The chiefs all have said they would serve only Mugabe. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Western diplomats, who also spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason, report that many younger army officers showed open defiance of orders they had to vote for Mugabe.

On Sunday, commission chairman Judge George Chiweshe was forced to flee from a Harare hotel after he was mobbed by journalists and ordinary people. "We want results," they yelled.

"This has been a more complicated election," Chiweshe said. "We will be releasing the results as soon as we can." He said it was taking time because Zimbabweans - for the first time - voted for president, the two houses of Parliament and local councilors, so four ballots have to be counted for each voter instead of one.

The head of the Pan-African Parliament observer mission warned the delay was creating "anxiety."

Earlier, people celebrated in the streets, dancing, singing and giving each other the openhanded wave that is the opposition party's symbol.

But by sundown, as frustrations grew, riot police and other security forces were patrolling the capital's densely populated suburbs, according to independent election monitors.

Observers from the South African Democratic Alliance opposition party said accounts from observers and other sources indicated the opposition "has won a majority in most areas."

"If this is not reflected in the results, this will be yet another indication that the election was rigged," they added.

Observers from the Pan-African Parliament have questioned thousands of names on the official voter roll, and the government has barred several international media organizations and some observers from the U.S. and Europe.

The Southern African Development Community's observer mission said it was concerned by threats made by the country's security chiefs, delays in producing the voters' roll, the presence of police officers in polling stations and lack of impartiality in the state media.

Nevertheless, those observers told reporters the elections "were in general a free expression of the people of Zimbabwe."

Mugabe has dismissed rigging charges.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice branded Mugabe a "disgrace" to all of Africa.

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© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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