Morgan Tsvangirai (Picture: AFP)
Zimbabwe’s election was credible and fair, the chief of the AU observer mission says, but the bloc’s report notes some problems with the votersâ€™ roll and of people being turned away from polling booths.
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Harare – President Robert Mugabe’s rivals rubbished his claim to election victory on Thursday, branding the vote a “sham” and calling for a campaign of resistance to bring Zimbabwe to a standstill.
A top member of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party claimed Mugabe had trounced Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Wednesday’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
“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 Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) 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.
Top MDC official Roy Bennett called for a campaign of “passive resistanceâ€�.
“I’m talking about people completely shutting the country down – don’t pay any bills, don’t attend work, just bring the country to a standstill.”
“There needs to be resistance against this theft and the people of Zimbabwe need to speak out strongly.”
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 chairperson 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 spokesperson said.
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.
â€˜Free and fairâ€™
Meanwhile, the AU, 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”.
“Yes, there were incidences, little incidences here
and there but they were not incidences that would flaw the election to the
point of not reflecting the will of the people,” said former Nigerian president
Olusegun Obasanjo, who led the AU mission.
After years of international sanctions there had been
hopes that a free election would allow Zimbabwe to reset relations with the
Turnout was reported to be high, with many of the 6.4
million eligible voters queuing before sunrise in the winter cold, hours before
The lines continued well into the evening, with many
marking their ballots by candle light.
Mugabe, Africa’s oldest leader, is seeking a seventh term
but Tsvangirai has voiced hope the election will usher in a new era.
Final results are expected within five days of the
election and police had warned that anyone trying to release unofficial figures
ahead of time risked being arrested.
Mugabe himself had even threatened to arrest Tsvangirai
if he tried to declare an early victory.
On Tuesday the firebrand had vowed to step down if
Tsvangirai was the victor, saying: “If you lose you must surrender.”
Mugabe came to prominence as a hero of Africa’s
liberation movement, guiding Zimbabwe to independence in 1980 from Britain and
white minority rule.
But his military-backed rule has been marked by
controversial land reforms, a series of violent crackdowns, economic crises and
suspect elections that have brought international sanctions and made him a
pariah in the West.
As the economy recovers from a crisis that saw mass
unemployment and galloping inflation, Mugabe loyalists insist their hero is
“tried and tested” and dismiss concerns about his age.
Mugabe had focused his campaign on attacking homosexuals
and on promises to widen the redistribution of wealth to poor black
Tsvangirai himself had predicted the MDC would win
The 61-year-old former union boss won the first round of
voting in 2008, but was forced out of the race after 200 of his supporters were
killed and thousands more injured in suspected state-backed attacks.
Tsvangirai hoped his plans to lure back foreign
investors, create a million jobs in five years and improve public services
would deliver a long-awaited victory.