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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.

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"By preemptively declaring victory, it creates an atmosphere where the frustrated part of the electorate may respond violently if the final results don't go the way they were expected," says Maroleng. "This could be costly in terms of lives."

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Waiting anxiously for results

In Harare, where MDC supporters danced in the streets after hearing that several of President Mugabe's cabinet members had lost their own parliamentary seats, the MDC announced on Monday morning that it had won 96 parliamentary seats out of the 128 constituencies where MDC polling agents had observed the vote counts.

MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti told reporters that they expect that most voters who voted for an MDC parliamentarian would also vote for MDC presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai. If Mr. Tsvangirai wins with a 60 percent portion of the vote, he would not need to face a runoff election.

"In our view, we cannot see the national averages changing," Mr. Biti said. "We wait anxiously for the official announcement of the results."

Biti blasted the ZEC for delays in releasing the poll results. He said Mugabe's government should not "seduce" the people of Zimbabwe into acts of violence by stealing the people's vote.

"Zimbabweans are rightfully anxious," he said. "Zimbabweans are not a violent people and we hope people are not provoked into violence if official results differ from those posted at polling stations."

Not another Kenya

But while some observers worry that anti-Mugabe voters may become violent if they feel the election has been stolen from them, security analyst Henri Boshoff says that a long-term spate of violence, pitting ethnic groups against each other, is unlikely in Zimbabwe.

"The police chief says he will not allow a Kenya to happen in Zimbabwe," says Mr. Boshoff, a military analyst at the Institute for Security Studies. Postelection violence in Kenya last December is blamed for the deaths of nearly 1,500 people. "But the truth, I'm afraid, is that is unlikely in any case. Zimbabweans are much more passive, they are more law-abiding, and more afraid of the tactics used by police in the past."

Mugabe, the 84-year-old leader of the liberation movement that toppled the white-supremacist government of Rhodesia in 1980, is credited with enacting free-education policies that have raised Zimbabwe to being one of the most literate countries in southern Africa. But he is also accused of ruining a once-powerful agricultural economy by breaking up productive white-owned commercial farms and giving the land to his cronies and supporters. Once a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe now imports much of its food.

During Mugabe's 28 years in power, the life expectancy of a male Zimbabwean has fallen to 37 years and unemployment has soared to 80 percent, and the annual inflation rate has now reached 100,000 percent, well above the rate for post World War-Germany, or the 4,000 percent rate of Argentina in the 1990s.

A journalist who could not be named for security reasons contributed from Harare.