HARARE, Zimbabwe – President Robert Mugabe’s party has lost its majority in parliament after 28 years in power, election officials announced Wednesday, even as the aging Zimbabwean leader faced a more damaging blow: the virtual certainty of a runoff in the presidential race that he has scant hope of winning.
Mugabe, with fewer people left to count on and fewer prizes in the economically ravaged county left to offer as inducements to allies, faces a final do-or-die struggle to hold on to power.
Word of Zimbabwe’s historic moment was delivered in the deadpan tones of electoral officials reading out voting figures on television. They said Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party had won at least 105 seats in a 210-seat parliament, that Mugabe’s faction received 93 seats and that smaller parties held the rest.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s triumph was slightly dampened when party officials made an embarrassing mistake in their own math. They declared their candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, the winner of the presidential race with 50.3 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff. But the party’s own figures showed he fell just short of the 50 percent plus one threshold for outright victory.
Tsvangirai, a former union official who has faced treason charges and beatings in a nine-year battle to unseat Mugabe, seems almost certain to win a second-round election.
One of Tsvangirai’s main challenges now is to win the support of military and security commanders tied to Mugabe’s camp, many of whom are suspicious of the longtime opposition leader and fearful that he would take away the benefits they have reaped during nearly three decades in power.
Mugabe, who at 84 has still managed to address three campaign rallies a day, has not been seen in public since Saturday’s vote. To some in the ruling party, the big mistake was letting him run at all: Many wanted him to step aside but failed to unite last year around a successor.
Both Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party and Tsvangirai’s MDC are now vying for the support of the third candidate, ruling party defector and former finance minister Simba Makoni. Sources close to Makoni said he was unlikely to work with Mugabe, whatever the inducement.
Although Makoni won a modest 7 percent in the race, according to the MDC’s count, he could be a key figure in ensuring a smooth transition. Makoni and leaders in his group were due to meet today to decide their position on the expected runoff.