Zimbabwean Opposition Claims Lead

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The opposition claimed Monday to be leading by a wide margin in Zimbabwe's presidential and parliamentary balloting, but only a few official results had been released, heightening fears that President Robert Mugabe's regime planned rigging to hold onto power.

One of Mugabe's Cabinet ministers lost his seat in a district seen as a ruling party stronghold, one of just 24 races for which Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission released results Monday. The official tally gave 12 wins each to the ruling party and the opposition.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change began announcing its own tally a day earlier and claimed Monday that its results, based on counts posted at polling stations in 128 of the country's 210 parliamentary districts, showed it was leading presidential elections with 60 percent of the votes compared with 30 percent for Mugabe. The rest of the presidential votes went to former ruling party loyalist and Finance Minister Simba Makoni, whose campaign as an independent brought splits within the ruling party over Mugabe's rule into the open.

The Movement for Democratic Change also said the opposition won 96 seats in the House of Assembly. Parliamentary and local council balloting was held alongside the presidential vote Saturday.

Movement for Democratic Change secretary-general Tendai Biti told reporters that the party's sources at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said rigging was under way aimed at giving Mugabe a 52 percent victory in the presidential race, and his party 111 of the 210 House of Assembly seats. A presidential candidate needs at least 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

The slow official reporting "only goes to raise tension among the people," Biti said.

Biti indicated that if the vote were stolen, the opposition would mount peaceful protests -- not go to the courts.

"We have election disputes still pending from 2002" in the courts, he said. "We are not going to make that mistake again. Our courts will be the people of Zimbabwe and our brothers and sisters in Africa."

Biti cautioned against resorting to violence, which he said could spark a security or military crackdown.

"Zimbabweans are rightfully anxious," he said. "Zimbabweans are not a violent people and we hope people are not provoked into violence if official results differ from those posted at polling stations."

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa's loss, reported in the official tally, fits a pattern independent monitors had seen earlier. The monitors, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publish results, said six Cabinet ministers -- among them some leading members of Mugabe's inner circle -- had lost their parliament seats. They include Vice President Joyce Mujuru; Didymus Mutasa, minister of state for security and land, and Defense Minister Sydney Sekeramayi.

In addition, observers from the South African Democratic Alliance opposition party have said accounts from observers and other sources indicated that the opposition had won a majority in most areas.