Zimbabwe's state newspaper predicts that there will be a runoff in last weekend's presidential vote. It could be the first time in 28 years that the country's autocratic leader has failed to win re-election. The Election Commission has yet to announce the outcome of the presidential vote.
Zimbabwe has glimpsed the possibility of having a new president for the first time in 28 years. Under its longtime ruler Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has gone from being a breadbasket for Southern Africa to a basket case - by any measure a ruined nation. Today, with no official results yet from last Saturday's election, the opposition went ahead and declared it had won.
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is following developments in Zimbabwe from neighboring South Africa.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Zimbabwe was Rumorville yesterday with speculation and expectation that veteran leader Robert Mugabe and his governing party were coming to terms with relinquishing power. Reports said Mugabe's government was in talks with the main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and that an agreement was being worked out.
A day of confusion ended with firm denials from both sides. Zimbabwe's Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga.
Mr. BRIGHT MATONGA (Deputy Information Minister, Zimbabwe): There is no deal. This is just speculation - malicious speculation - I wish you will dismiss.
QUIST-ARCTON: Despite these denials, there's a sense that something is going on, but opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai also dismissed reports of discussions or any deal with the Mugabe camp. Tsvangirai told a news conference he had won the presidential vote. The opposition has accused Mugabe's government of delaying the results to rig the vote. Tsvangirai appealed to Zimbabweans to be patient.
Mr. MORGAN TSVANGIRAI (Movement for Democratic Change): President Mugabe said that he's an honest man and that he doesn't believe in cheating. I hope that when the result is announced, it is the true reflection of the vote and that there's no reason to involve in fraudulent activities. And we still have to wait until that is proven. The people of Zimbabwe have waited for this long. I think they can wait far, far longer to reach that confirmation.
QUIST-ARCTON: The first official admission that President Mugabe may not be able to claim outright victory came in this morning's state-run Herald newspaper. Quoting analysts, the Herald said none of the presidential candidates seem to have won the 50-percent-plus-one votes necessary to avoid a second-round runoff. But there's still no word from the election commission on the results of the presidential vote.
Commentator Trevor Ncube publishes independent newspapers in Zimbabwe. He says with a failed economy and an impoverished and alienated population, after 28 years in power and possibly facing defeat, Mugabe is in a tight spot.
Mr. TREVOR NCUBE (Publisher): It's a very difficult position where he is. He's never been here before. He's never been defeated before. He faces a number of options.
QUIST-ARCTON: And one, reckons Ncube, will be up to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Ncube says he must find a way to make Mugabe supporters, including the security forces and business leaders, feel confident about accepting a change of power and a new Zimbabwe.
Mr. NCUBE: They are shaking in their boots right now. It would be reckless for anybody right now to talk about retribution, revenge. It's important to reach out and embrace everybody and make everybody feel that they've a stake in the future, that the environment of fear, of repression, of revenge is behind us, and that where we're going is a new future.
QUIST-ARCTON: Meanwhile, the mood in Zimbabwe is tense and anxious as they wait for the long-delayed presidential election results.
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hide captionZimbabwean President Robert Mugabe greets congregation members before addressing a church service in Bulawayo on March 23.
Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe greets congregation members before addressing a church service in Bulawayo on March 23.
Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images
Who is Robert Mugabe?
Robert Mugabe, 84, has been the leader of Zimbabwe for 28 years.
He earned degrees from the universities of London and South Africa, and worked as a teacher before entering politics in what was then Southern Rhodesia.
In 1964, Mugabe was arrested for what the white-minority government dubbed "subversive speech." He spent 10 years in prison.
After his release, Mugabe formed a militant faction of the Zimbabwe African National Union, operating from Mozambique. Together with other groups, he kept up a guerrilla war against the government until 1979.
Mugabe became prime minister after his party won elections in 1980.
Between 1982 and 1985, Mugabe's army was accused of carrying out the massacres of some 20,000 civilians from the Ndebele ethnic group in an effort to stamp out armed opponents in the provinces of Matabeleland and the Midlands.
In 1987, Mugabe abolished the office of prime minister and took on new powers as president of Zimbabwe. He has been re-elected three times, with the last election in 2002 marred by widespread claims of intimidation and vote-rigging.
Mugabe launched a land re-distribution program in 2000 that allowed the seizure of white-owned farmlands without compensation. The program is blamed for crippling the country's agricultural production and contributing to its current economic crisis.
hide captionOpposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai addresses a campaign rally outside Harare last month.
AFP/Getty Images/Alexander Joe
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai addresses a campaign rally outside Harare last month.
AFP/Getty Images/Alexander Joe
Who is Morgan Tsvangirai?
Morgan Tsvangirai, 56, is the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe's major opposition political party.
He left school early to work as a miner and rose through the mineworker's union to become head of Zimbabwe's trade-union congress in 1989.
Tsvangirai led his union group to break away from the ruling political party of President Robert Mugabe, accusing Mugabe and top party leaders of corruption. He survived several assassination attempts, including one in which attackers tried to throw him from the window of his 10th-story office.
In 1999, Tsvangirai founded the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as an opposition political party. The MDC was instrumental in defeating a constitutional referendum that would have increased Mugabe's political power and given him more terms in office.
Tsvangirai ran against Mugabe in the 2002 presidential election, but lost amid allegations of vote fraud and voter intimidation by Mugabe's forces.
Since then, Tsvangirai has been arrested by the government several times and tried and acquitted of treason. In 2007 he was arrested and beaten by Zimbabwean security forces. Pictures of his gashed and swollen face were circulated in the news media and raised an international outcry against Mugabe's government.
— Corey Flintoff
For the first time in more than two decades, the United States could have the chance to engage with a new government in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe.
Long-time Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe's ruling party has officially lost control of the country's parliament and Mugabe may face a run-off for the presidency.
The Zimbabwe Election Commission reports that Mugabe's party won only 93 seats in the 210-member lower house of parliament. The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) gained 105 seats. The commission, whose members were appointed by Mugabe, has not yet reported results for the presidential race, but the state-controlled Herald newspaper is now predicting a run-off between Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai. MDC officials say Tsvangirai has won outright and that there is no need for a second vote.
Relationship with U.S.
There's been no love lost between Mugabe and a succession of American presidents, who denounced the African leader for corruption, human rights violations and mismanagement. For his part, Mugabe evaded Western sanctions by doing business with and accepting aid from China. He once expressed his displeasure with critical comments from a U.S. ambassador by saying the envoy could "go to hell."
Michelle Gavin, an Africa expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the elections could play out in several scenarios that could offer the United States a new chance to engage with Zimbabwe.
If Mugabe loses the election and agrees to go quietly, Gavin says, a new government could quickly implement reforms that would rebuild the confidence of the international community. If that's the case, she says the United States could contribute to an economic stabilization package that would help stem Zimbabwe's 100,000 percent inflation rate and relieve its nearly 80 percent unemployment.
Calls for a National Unity Government
Given the possibility of a presidential run-off, organizations such as the International Crisis Group in Africa are calling for the creation of a government of national unity.
Andebrhan Giorgis, a senior adviser for the group, says a national unity government should work to implement constitutional and security reforms that were discussed during a pre-election mediation attempt led by South African President Thabo Mbeki. Giorgis says the reforms should be in place before a runoff election is held.
Giorgis also says a government of national unity would offer a window of opportunity for the U.S. and international community to re-engage with Zimbabwe.
Africa expert Gavin warns that there is a worst-case scenario — if Mugabe refused to accept a presidential election loss, triggering demonstrations by the opposition and violent repression by Mugabe's security forces. It's possible, Gavin says, that elements of the security forces themselves could break off and support the opposition, leading to wider violence.
Gavin says each scenario offers opportunities for the United States to re-engage with Zimbabwe, but she says it will take a lot of time and commitment that may be hard to find as the Bush administration is winding down.