Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Guessing at election outcomes in Zimbabwe

I’m in DC for a day and half, invited by a team at the Economist for a discussion of public-private partnerships in supporting technology projects in the developing world. Good stuff, but I suspect I’ve been a lousy guest so far. I spent a good chunk of our dinner, staring at my phone, reloading Google News to check out coverage of the Zimbabwe elections. Discovering that one of the fellow guests was a Zimbabwean, we passed my phone back and forth as the LA Times declared, “Mugabe apparently faces major defeat in Zimbabwe“.

That “apparently” is an important word. Other publications aren’t quite that brave yet in their reporting. Christian Science Monitor has “Zimbabwe Opposition Claims Election Win“, and the New York Times just shifted from “Opposition Claims Win in Zimbabwe on Unofficial Tally” and is now running “Zimbabwe Unofficial Results Disputed“. These unofficial results are based on tallying the results from polling stations around the nation – each station posts its results, and representatives of MDC, the main opposition party, have been summing these totals and claiming near total victory in their strongholds, Bulawayo and Harare, and surprisingly strong showings in rural areas. They’re projecting a first round victory for Morgan Tsvangarai, with no need for a run-off. Independent observers, notably the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, who’ve been trading vote tallies via text messages, echo those predictions.

These results aren’t official, however – the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said tha they’ll release the official results beginning tomorrow morning. And opposition supporters admit that while they’ve got thorough tallies from urban areas, it takes a longer time to get those rural vote counts… and that rural districts are Mugabe’s stronghold. In other words, the delay in announcing Satuday’s results may be legitimate… or it may reflect attempts to rig the vote, as occurred in 2002, where early totals showed Mugabe losing, and later ones had him magically surging back. Or it could reflect a recognition that this election can’t be rigged and an attempt to let Mugabe step down gracefully. Or it might mean there’s discussion within the military on whether they’ll attempt to prevent Tsvangarai from taking office and keep Mugabe in power.

Elections are ever so much more complicated when the winner doesn’t neccesarily win.

Needless to say, Harare is tense, as people wait and wonder what’s going to happen next. Bev Clark argues that MDC needs to take advantage of this interval and claim victory, making it harder for the government to overturn the results:

Morgan Tsvangirai should be doing victory laps around high density suburbs, inspiring and preparing Zimbabweans for the next round of the fight for democracy. As we all know winning elections in Zimbabwe don’t necessarily mean a transfer of “power”.

So where are the MDC trucks and vans and cars filled with campaign workers roaming the cities hooting up a storm of resistance? They were very active and visible pre-election – now where have they gone?

Enough with Press Conferences for Change; let’s have some open air celebrations.

But you can understand why some people are reluctant to take to the streets. Instead, many appear to be trading gossip and rumors. Ndesanjo Macha has a thorough roundup of voices on the ground and of the stories going back and forth. Mugabe has been reported as fleeing to Mauritius, or possibly to Mozambique. His wife is rumored to have died of a heart attack, which is delaying announcement of results.

What’s really happening on the ground? Hard to know – it’s too late tonight to call friends on the ground, but I hope to get on the phone before the workday starts tomorrow and find out more details. In the meantime, my prayers are with all my friends in Zim that this election proceeds peacefully and brings about the change that the country so deserves.

4 Responses to “Guessing at election outcomes in Zimbabwe”

  1. R. Meehan says:

    Hello Ethan,
    Hope you’re enjoying DC and our weather. As an Economist reader I’ll expect to see something from you there in the upcoming issues. While typing a birthday e-mail I searched for a little on the ‘net & found your post. You might recognize the name – check your Mar. 6 ’04 post and it’ll come back to you – & I have to say I felt a little fraternal pride on that one. Don’t think about trying to come back on him or me behind this – think all in good fun & you should smile before anything else.
    All the best,
    – R

  2. Kaushal says:

    Hi Ethan –

    Let’s not forget to give credit where it is due – some African leaders like Festus Mogae of Botswana relinquished power in favor of a smooth transition this week; unfortunately this news gets drowned by all the Mugabe drama http://awurl.com/vqjnud36142

    Kaushal

  3. Ethan says:

    That’s a great point, Kaushal. The Wall Street Journal makes a similar point in a recent article on the Zim elections, pointing out that many of Zim’s neighbors are thriving, and that Botswana is leading the pack: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120712837197683071.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    It’s always harder to get attention for the good stories than for the bad. And Botswana is now so stable that its continued stability is hard to portray as news. But it is, and it’s great news for that country and for the region.

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