(Last Updated on August 3, 2013 by Editor)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s party has won a huge majority in parliament in this week’s elections, officials say.
With most seats declared, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said Zanu-PF had won 137 seats in the 210-seat chamber, just short of two-thirds.
Results in the presidential race have yet to be announced.
Mr Mugabe’s main rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has already dismissed the election as “a sham”.
Mr Tsvangirai, 61, who heads the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and is running for president against Mr Mugabe, said the vote was “null and void”.
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There is a mood of despair among Morgan Tsvangirai’s supporters – they are shocked and dejected.
A palpable feeling has gripped the capital, Harare, where people’s hopes had been raised by the absence of the intimidation and violence seen in past elections. Many cannot understand how President Robert Mugabe’s party managed to win seats in Mr Tsvangirai’s urban strongholds.
In contrast, Zanu-PF supporters feel they have brought back the father of the nation, who fought colonial rule and restored the dignity of black Zimbabweans.
The country is torn apart by political strife. Emotions are running high and the country is likely to face another period of bickering and, perhaps, economic stagnation.
The leaders of Mr Tsvangirai’s MDC are meeting on Saturday to map the way forward. The question is whether he will remain at the helm, or face internal pressures to quit. The strong indications are that he may stay on in the opposition trenches until the next election.
For now, the MDC is pursuing the legal route, which – judging by the past – is unlikely to succeed.
For President Mugabe, it is time to go back to the office, where he will face the world’s questions about his legitimacy.
A local monitoring group has also said that the poll was “seriously compromised”.
However, the two main observer groups have broadly endorsed the election, saying it was free and peaceful.
Earlier reports from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said Zanu-PF had won 142 seats but this was later corrected following some recounts.
The AFP news agency reports that 186 seats have been declared with 24 results still to come.
If Zanu-PF clinches a two-thirds majority it will be able to change Zimbabwe’s constitution.
African Union (AU) mission head Olusegun Obasanjo dismissed the complaints of fraud, saying the election was fair and free “from the campaigning point of view”.
He acknowledged incidents “that could have been avoided and even tended to have breached the law” but added: “All in all, up to the close of the polls, we do not believe that these incidences (incidents) will amount to the result not representing the will of the people.”
The former Nigerian president added: “I have never seen an election that is perfect. The process continues and we have to limit our comments.”
Monitors from the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) described the elections as “free and peaceful” but said it was too early to call them fair.
“In democracy we not only vote, not only campaign, but accept the hard facts, particularly the outcome,” said Sadc mission head Bernard Membe.
The AU assessment sharply contrasted to that of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) – the largest group of domestic monitors with some 7,000 people on the ground.
It said on Thursday that the elections were “seriously compromised”, with as many as one million people unable to cast their ballots.
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One Harare resident’s view
“I accept that the president has support, but enough for a landslide?
When I was in a voting queue, I struck up conversations with people. Most of us were there to fix our country.
Surely that does not mean returning to the pre-2008 days?”
The ZESN said potential voters were much more likely to be turned away from polling stations in urban areas, where support for Mr Tsvangirai is strong, than in President Mugabe’s rural strongholds.
The group also alleged significant irregularities before the poll. It said that 99.7% of rural voters were registered on the electoral roll in June compared with only 67.9% of urban voters.
Zanu-PF and the MDC have formed an uneasy coalition government since 2009. That deal ended deadly violence that erupted after a disputed presidential poll the previous year.
Mr Mugabe, 89, is running for a seventh term.
His Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said on Friday that Zanu-PF was “headed for an unprecedented landslide”.
“If anyone is dissatisfied, the courts are there. I invite Tsvangirai to go to court if he has any grounds to justify what he has been saying,” he told journalists.
Under Zimbabwean law, seven days are set aside for legal challenges with another two days for rulings to be made. After that, the swearing-in of a new government takes place.
The BBC’s Andrew Harding in Johannesburg says some strong legal challenges are likely, with perhaps a few results overturned.
Amid rising tension, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on President Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai to send “clear messages of calm” to their supporters.
His spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said Mr Ban wanted any election disputes to be handled “transparently and fairly”.