HARARE (AFP) – Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s allies declared Thursday that the veteran leader had romped to an election victory, a claim rejected by his rival who branded the vote a “sham.”
“We have romped (to victory) in a very emphatic manner,” said the party member who asked not to be named. “We have won all of them, including the presidential and parliamentary.”
But the claim was swiftly slapped down by Tsvangirai, bidding for a third time to end 89-year-old Mugabe’s 33-year rule of the troubled southern African country.
“It’s a sham election that does not reflect the will of the people,” he said, pointing to a litany of alleged irregularities.
“In our view this election is null and void,” he added. “This election has been a huge farce.”
“The shoddy manner in which it has been conducted and the consequent illegitimacy of the result will plunge this country into a serious crisis.”
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said the count has been completed and results are now being collated from the first vote since bloody polls in 2008 led to an uneasy power-sharing deal between Tsvangirai and Mugabe.
Tsvangirai stopped short of claiming victory himself, a move that could have enflamed tensions in a country where political violence is common.
The vote itself passed off peacefully, but in a sign of simmering tensions around 20 riot police were deployed near the headquarters of Tsvangirai’s MDC party, an AFP reporter witnessed.
Foreign diplomats and independent Zimbabwean election observers also expressed grave misgivings about the conduct of the poll.
“Up to a million voters were disenfranchised,” said Solomon Zwana the chairman of Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which has 7,000 observers. “The election is seriously compromised.”
The Catholic Church — which has 3,000 people on the ground — said it was premature to call a winner but there was a “strong feeling” across the country that Mugabe would lose.
“If certain people feel their choice was not accepted they may resort to violence. That potential is still there,” a church spokesman said.
The African Union, which has been accused of whitewashing problems in the run-up to the vote, said initial reports indicated it was “peaceful, orderly, free and fair”.
Since no Western groups were allowed to monitor the polls, the view of observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) may now be pivotal in deciding how the international community reacts.
The SADC said it will deliver its verdict on Friday.
After years of international sanctions there had been hopes that a free election would allow Zimbabwe to reset relations with the West.
Turnout was reported to be high, with many of the 6.4 million eligible voters queueing before sunrise in the winter cold, hours before polls opened. The lines continued well into the evening, with many marking their ballots by candle light.