Mixed Reports Boost Scrutiny of Zimbabwe Elections

Results from Saturday's key parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe are trickling in. A long delay in releasing the results has prompted the opposition to accuse President Robert Mugabe of trying to rig the vote.

The election is seen as the toughest challenge to Mugabe's 28-year hold on power. Zimbabwe is in an economic melt-down, with eight out of every 10 people out of work, and inflation running at 100,000 percent.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — who is on a mission to the Middle East — had sharp words for the conduct of the elections and for Mugabe himself: "We've tried to make the case, and as has the entire world, that there needed to be free and fair elections in Zimbabwe as much as it was possible. The Mugabe regime is a disgrace to the people of Zimbabwe and a disgrace to southern Africa and to the continent of Africa as a whole."

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who has been monitoring Zimbabwe's election from Johannesburg, South Africa, says the opposition is already declaring victory in these polls — and it accuses the government of delaying the results in order to buy time to manipulate the vote.

But the head of the election commission says "the magnitude of the task of collating and vote counting ... is why the results are delayed," Quist-Arcton says.

Zimbabwe held four votes simultaneously — presidential, parliamentary, senatorial and local government elections — on the same day, Saturday, for the first time, and compiling the results of all four is "a mammoth task," Quist-Arcton says.

The opposition has some basis to make the accusation of vote-rigging because it is generally thought that Mugabe manipulated the vote in the last election.

The "60 million dollar question," Quist-Arcton says, is when the results will be in.

"Zimbabweans want to know that their vote meant something, that they voted freely and fairly, and they're saying to the election commission chief, 'Please release the results and make sure they are the correct and honest results.' "

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