Opposition takes early lead in Zimbabwe election


Zimbabwe's opposition took an early lead in the country's elections Monday as authorities finally released the first batch of results after being accused of trying to help Robert Mugabe cling to power.

The Movement for Democratic Change party, led by Mugabe's old rival Morgan Tsvangirai, won four out of the first six parliamentary seats to be announced nearly 36 hours after the close of polls on Saturday. The other two were won by Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party.

The MDC won the first seat to be declared, the newly-formed constituency of Chegutu West, around 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the capital Harare, commission spokesman Utoile Silaigwana told reporters in Harare.

A total of 210 parliamentary seats are due to be declared as well as the result of the simultaneous presidential election in the troubled southern African country, which has the world's highest rate of inflation.

The MDC had on Sunday accused the commission of deliberately sitting on the results in a bid to fix the election in favour of Mugabe who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.

"Mugabe has lost this election and they have gone back to the drawing board to try and cook up a result in favour of Robert Mugabe but we will never accept that," MDC general-secretary Tendai Biti told AFP.

Despite warnings from Mugabe's camp that pre-emptive declarations were tantamount to a coup, the MDC is adamant Tsvangirai has won and it has secured nearly all parliamentary seats in the two main cities of Harare and Bulawayo.

While the election was given a generally clean bill of health from a regional observer mission, a network of domestic organisations which had observer status on election day also raised fears the result was being fixed.

After determining the 2002 election was rigged, no representatives from European Union countries nor the United States have been allowed to oversee the ballot.

African countries have largely refrained from speaking out against a man who has ruled his country since independence from Britain in 1980.

In its report on the election, a team from the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) noted a number of concerns but ultimately declared the vote was a "peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people."

Tsvangirai claimed on Saturday his party had uncovered evidence of widespread vote-rigging, including the names of a million "ghost" voters.

As well as Tsvangirai, Mugabe is up against former finance minister Simba Makoni, who is expected to trail in third.

The elections come as Zimbabwe grapples with an inflation rate of over 100,000 per cent and widespread shortages of even basic foodstuffs such as bread and cooking oil.
The 84-year-old Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader, has blamed the economic woes on the European Union and the United States, which imposed sanctions on his inner circle after he was accused of rigging his 2002 re-election. (AFP)