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Tension in Zimbabwe after opposition claims victory

The Movement for Democratic Change is trumpeting a huge win and accusing Mugabe's government of delaying results.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / April 1, 2008

Masked: In a suburb of Harare, children played Monday with a mask of President Mugabe, who observers fear might rig the election and violently quell dissent, as he has in the past.

Philamon Bulawayo/Reuters

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Johannesburg, South Africa; and Harare, Zimbabwe

Zimbabweans remained calm two days after Saturday's elections, but high expectations of an opposition victory have increased the dangerous potential for postelection violence, observers say.

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On Monday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) began announcing parliamentary election results, allotting 25 seats each to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and 26 to the ruling ZANU-PF of President Robert Mugabe, while MDC spokesmen announced their own set of results, gathered by their own polling agents at 128 of the 210 parliamentary constituencies around the country. By contrast, the MDC predicts 60 percent of the parliamentary vote, with ZANU-PF gaining only 30 percent.

The MDC is now crying foul, accusing the government of intentionally delaying the release of results.

"It is now clear that there is something fishy. The whole thing is suspicious and totally unacceptable," said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa.

Britain, Germany, and the EU called for faster reporting Monday to ease tensions, and the United States urged Zimbabwe to "do the right thing" as it counts the votes.

"It is no secret that the [ZEC] has a partisan cast to it, and we would certainly hope that regardless of the partisan sympathies of any members of that commission, that they would again follow the letter and spirit of the law," said State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

MDC raising voter expectations

On election day, as polling agents for the MDC sent results from each polling station to MDC headquarters, MDC spokesmen started predicting a landslide. By late in the evening, the rumor mill in Harare and across the country had proclaimed MDC the winner of 200 out of Zimbabwe's 210 parliamentary seats.

"MDC has created high expectations and high opportunity costs for the ZANU-PF," says Chris Maroleng, a Zimbabwe expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Tshwane, as Pretoria, South Africa, is now called. Mr. Maroleng was an election observer during Saturday's vote.

This could work to the opposition's favor by turning up the heat and causing ZANU-PF to think twice about stealing the election, as they have done in the past. But it could also be quite dangerous if the military cracks down on opposition supporters in the streets.

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