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With Election Unresolved, Tensions Rise in Zimbabwe


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.



And I'm Robert Siegel.

In Zimbabwe, the ruling party of President Robert Mugabe is talking about a runoff election. A runoff would be in order if neither Mugabe nor his leading opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai won 50 percent in last Saturday's vote. No returns have been released for the presidential race and Tsvangirai's party is asking the courts there to force a release.

Well, joining us now is Patrick Smith, a correspondent for the newsletter Africa Confidential.

And Patrick Smith, first, what does Robert Mugabe's party, Zanu-PF, what did they say about the runoff election?

Mr. PATRICK SMITH (Editor, Africa Confidential): Well, they say that if they don't get the required majority, they are prepared to go in for a runoff. And they also say they're absolutely confident they'll win, because the deputy information minister Bright Matonga was telling journalists in Harare yesterday that they'll only put 25 percent of their effort into the first round, and this time they'll go add in another 75 percent. And they feel they're certain to win in any runoff.


SIEGEL: Now, the mystery over last Saturday's vote could be cleared up if the electoral commission would release the votes. What's holding that up?

Mr. SMITH: Well, that's right. I mean, what seems to be going on is - at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in Harare, there are fairly serious disputes between Zanu-PF and the opposition MDC about the collation of all the results from across the country. And I understand that some of the opposition representative are asking for a complete re-tabulation of some of the presidential results, because they are not happy with the figures of the Electoral Commission have released so far. So it could, in fact, go on for several more days.

SIEGEL: Well, let's assume for a moment that the result is nobody winning 50 percent and we've been led to believe from some random samples that were taken that Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition candidate, probably won more votes than Mugabe - well, we really don't know that yet. If that's the case, when will the runoff take place?

Mr. SMITH: Well, the constitution stipulates that it should be 21 days from the date of polling. And there are a lot of questions raised by that. The big one is, does the country actually have enough money to finance the runoff, to finance the printing of the ballots, the distribution of the ballots that, in theory, the runoff would have to be in the middle of April.

But there's just one exception that President Mugabe could bring in to play. He, in fact, has the constitutional right to postpone a runoff for a further three months, if he thinks the conditions are not right now. And there has been - all week in Harare, I understand - reports that that might be one of the tactics the ruling party would employ to actually postpone a runoff in the hope they might be able to do something to turn around the economy and win back some of the support they have obviously lost over the last year.

SIEGEL: Ninety days, I've heard it forecast that in over ninety days in Zimbabwe, the inflation rate could move from a 100,000 percent a year to 600,000 percent a year. And economic turnaround seems less likely than possibly some kind of perhaps a government crackdown that might inhibit the opposition from campaigning or from winning?

Mr. SMITH: Yeah. I mean, once you go over a 100 percent inflation, I think all the bets - becomes a sort of a meaningless figure. So a lot of people fear that what would they do is engineer a turnaround, if you like, for some of their favorite supporters. The people in the rural areas will get lots of resources, tractors, seeds, fertilizers out to the farmers in the rural area who they hope will come back to the fold and vote for Zanu. And as for the urban people, they'll come down and crack down on the media, crack down on the independent NGO and, indeed, on the opposition activists. And you'll see the opposition cowed as it has been in earlier years, you know. That might well be the strategy if they go for a three-month extension.

SIEGEL: Tsvangirai's party, the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change…

Mr. SMITH: Yeah.

SIEGEL: …has gone to court trying to get the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to report. What else do they say? I mean, do they accept the idea that the - that they'll abide by the vote count as it comes out of the commission, that there'll be a runoff? What do they say?

Mr. SMITH: Yes. Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC has been fairly clear on their position on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. They do actually have representatives at the commission and they're going through the vote counts with the ruling party representatives as well. And they have said, yes, we will accept the outcome when it's published, we want it to be published as soon as possible.

SIEGEL: Patrick Smith of Africa Confidential, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. SMITH: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.