The presidential election in Zimbabwe went off peacefully but the mood throughout the country is tense and there are fears that violence could still erupt in a repeat of 2008.
Morgan Tsvangirai looked relieved after he cast his vote on Wednesday (31.07.2013). Zimbabwe's prime minister and Robert Mugabe's strongest rival has already tried twice unsuccessfully to beat Mugabe in an election.
"It is an emotional moment for me but I am filled with a sense of calmness," he said, "After all the conflict, the stalemate, the suspicion, the hostility, there is a sense that finally Zimbabwe will be able to move on again."
International election observers spoke of an orderly, peaceful election. The process was monitored by observers from neighboring countries as well as from Iran and Russia. European Union observers were not permitted to take part. In the run-up to the elections there was criticism of the late publication of the electoral roll. The names of numerous eligible voters were said to be missing, while tens of thousands of people allegedly aged 100 or more were on the list. Morgan Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), only received a copy of the list on election day.
Waiting for results
A comment by 89-year-old President Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 33 years, nurtured hopes that the process will continue to be peaceful. “If you lose, you must surrender,” he said on the eve of the poll.
However it is questionable whether Mugabe really would accept defeat. In the 2008 elections, Tsvangirai was in the lead after the first round. Ahead of a run-off, Mugabe unleashed a campaign of violence which forced his challenger to withdraw. Some 200 people reportedly lost their lives. This time too, the situation could escalate. Members of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party were quick to declare victory. Tsvangirai spoke of a “sham election” and a “huge farce.”
In the weeks leading up to the poll, a popular Facebook blogger using the name Baba Jukwa posted inside information about ZANU-PF and called on his more than 320,000 fans to vote for Tsvangirai. According to the pro-Mugabe newspaper “The Herald”, there was a reward of $300,000 (227,000 euros) for information leading to the arrest of the blogger who is believed to be a former ZANU-PF functionary.
Immediately after the election Baba Jukwa declared Tsvangirai was the outright winner - and called on his supporters to defend the victory.
Violence cannot be ruled out
“The problems with elections usually begin afterwards, once results are announced,” Jürgen Langen, who heads the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Zimbabe's capital Harare, said in an interview with DW. "At the last elections in 2008, there was hardly any intimidation or bloodshed before the results were released." It was only when the announcement came, four weeks later, that violence erupted.
This time results are expected within five days but observers expect a delay. Should no presidential candidate achieve an absolute majority, a run-off is scheduled for 11 September.