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Zimbabwe presidential vote results show runoff is needed

MDC accuses Mugabe of 'grand theft' and may not take part.

May 03, 2008|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — Zimbabwe's opposition Friday accused President Robert Mugabe of "grand theft" after long-delayed official results of the nation's presidential election showed no candidate won outright and a runoff must be held.

The opposition's national executive will decide this weekend whether to take part in a second round of balloting even though the party insists that its candidate won the first time.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announced the presidential results Friday, more than a month after the election. They showed that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai received 47.9% of the vote to Mugabe's 43.2%. Ruling party defector Simba Makoni received 8.3%.

The constitution calls for a runoff if no one gets 50% of the votes plus one.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change has repeatedly ruled out a runoff, claiming that Tsvangirai received more than 50% of the vote in the March 29 balloting based on results posted outside polling stations. But if he doesn't participate, election officials could declare Mugabe the winner.

Pressed on whether the MDC would allow that to happen, party Secretary-General Tendai Biti said Friday, "We're fully alive and we will not allow Mugabe to steal it." But he also said that holding a runoff would be "folly."

"It's quite clear that there's been an attempt at grand theft, grand kleptocracy, if you like," Biti said at a Johannesburg news conference. "The issue of a runoff is a legal myth, a factual myth, to the extent that we have won this presidential election."

He said an addendum to the constitution gives victory to the top vote-getter, despite the constitution's requirement that the winner have 50% of the ballots plus one.

Biti gave the opposition's own presidential tally, indicating that Tsvangirai received 50.3% of the vote, and said the electoral commission figures in effect had stolen 80,000 votes from the MDC candidate. However, a count released by the party April 2 had him with only 49% of the vote.

Asked Friday about the difference in the two sets of MDC figures, Biti said: "There was a discrepancy. What we've simply done was to update the figures."

Biti indicated that the MDC was willing to form a government of national unity, on the condition Mugabe retired. He said Mugabe's safety and assets would be guaranteed.

Both the U.S. and Britain questioned the credibility of the election results, given the long delay in their release.

"That final tally, I think, has rather serious credibility problems given the inexplicably long delays and some of the postelection irregularities that have occurred," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington.

Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement that a rerun would not be fair unless international monitors were present. The European Union also has called for observers.

Observers from the regional grouping the Southern African Development Community on Friday reported an increase in violence and killings since the election. South African President Thabo Mbeki told church leaders Friday that he would send a team to Zimbabwe to investigate reports of violence.

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robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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