Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Still waiting in Zimbabwe

Since Saturday night, I’ve been giving the reload button on my web browser a workout. Like many people around the world, most people in Africa and all people in Zimbabwe, I’m desperate to know how the election turned out. And more than four days after polling closed, it’s still not clear precisely what happened, or precisely what will transpire.

The initial narrative – that MDC won in a landslide and that the election commission was taking time to rig the results in Mugabe’s favor – now looks more complicated. Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a group of NGOs who cooperated to monitor the election, reported that Tsvangarai had the largest plurality of votes, but was likely to be just below the 50% threshhold needed to avoid a run-off. (There are numerous explanations for the disparity between the early and later count. Some argue that it reflects Mugabe’s support in rural areas, where results were reported later. Others, understandably paranoid, point out that the 2002 election was rigged by having a close election, which later swung dramatically for Mugabe. And the truly paranoid believe the Mossad is rigging the election in Mugabe’s favor.)

In the past couple of hours, it’s become clear that ZANU-PF has lost control of Parliament. While this is a dramatic development, it doesn’t shed that much light on the Presidential poll. There appears to be an increasing, rough agreement that Tsvangarai/MDC recieved either just over or just under 50% of votes, while Mugabe/ZANU-PF received somewhere between 41-43%, and the remainder went to Simba Makoni, a former ZANU-PF insider who split with the party.

(Here’s the official projections from ZESN, published on their site on March 31 as a word document:

Presidential Poll Projections – 29 March 2008 Harmonized Elections
Makoni 8.2% 1.1% 7.1 to 9.3
Mugabe 41.8% 2.6% 39.2 to 44.4
Towungana 0.6% 0.1% 0.5 to 0.7
Tsvangirai 49.4% 2.4% 47.0 to 51.8

The first number is the projected share of votes; the second is the margin of error; the third is the 95% confidence interval.)

The storyline yesterday was that Mugabe would step down rather than face potential embarrasment in a second round of polls. This now looks less likely, and there’s been speculation today that, instead, Mugabe will contest the next round, and that the second round may be rigged in his favor.

For some perspectives from the ground, Ndesanjo Macha has a roundup of Zimbabwean blogs titled, “What more must Zimbabweans do?”, quoting from a blog post from activist Bev Clark. The quotes from blogs run through a range of frustrated emotions, suggestions to call the electoral commission and complain, to prepare to take to the streets, to bunker down if the military attempts to enforce continued rule by Mugabe, to flee the the country.

Zimbabwe’s blogs tend to be overwhelmingly anti ZANU-PF. It’s useful to hear some constrasting views, though they require some work to find online. Dumisani Nyoni, an activist working on rural development near Bulawayo, and an occasional blogger, writes from a very different perspective, one more sympathetic to ZANU-PF – his account of the election and the uncertainty around the vote count is worth reading.

It’s likely going to take many more reloads to get a sense of what happened, and what will happen in Zimbabwe. The Election Commission is telling the UN that there might not be a final count until April 11, blaming fuel shortages, paper shortages and the economy for the delays.

3 Responses to “Still waiting in Zimbabwe”

  1. I find it interesting that the parliamentary votes were relatively quick to be released, but the presidential vote is still being, um, cooked. One story I’ve heard is that Mugabe is going to use this election to leave office gracefully. While there’s a chance that he might want to leave a positive bookend on his legacy (leaving office peacefully after losing an election), I think he’s far too much of a firebrand to do such a thing.

    In another interesting move, CNN and other media outlets were restricted from covering the elections. Al Jazeera English had exclusive privilege to cover it. If Mugabe was hoping for positive coverage from Al Jazeera, he has to be disappointed- watching the pre-vote coverage late last week, AJ reporters were corroborating reports of voter roll rigging and opposition repression by the government. Their coverage of the opposition’s announcement of results yesterday was also pretty good, though BBC World also cut to carry the press conference live almost in its entirety.

  2. I’m a day behind on my newspapers, but yesterday’s NYT talks about there being rumors of talks between ZANU-PF and the MDC. Of course, this is denied by Mugabe’s people.

    Foreign Policy has links to this and other articles about the rumors in their blog.

    I’m starting to think that there may be some level of truth to the rumors, at least WRT there being talks behind the scenes. Since they’ve already announced that ZANU has lost the parliament, I think that a political shift of some sort is being planned. It’s gonna be interesting..

    Robbie

  3. duke says:

    Peace be with the reader.

    Take courage, the time has come.

    The Faithful Witness

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