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Zimbabwe Awaits Election Results; Runoff Predicted

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Johannesburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.