HARARE, (Reuters) – Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai dismissed Zimbabwe’s election as a farce today after his rival President Robert Mugabe’s party claimed a landslide victory that would secure another five years in power for Africa’s oldest head of state.
Speaking to reporters at the headquarters of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), a downbeat Tsvangirai said Wednesday’s vote should be considered invalid because of polling day irregularities and vote-rigging by 89-year-old Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
“This has been a huge farce,” Tsvangirai said. “In our view, that election is null and void.” He did not take questions, leaving it unclear whether he or his party will mount any kind of legal challenge.
The conflicting claims from the two main competing camps came even before Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission had issued any official results, expected by Monday.
The largest independent observer group said the credibility of the poll was compromised because of voter registration irregulaties, with thousands being disenfranchised.
Wednesday’s voting was peaceful across the southern African nation but the MDC’s outright rejection of the vote raises the prospect of an acrimonious dispute.
It also increases the chances of a repeat of the violence that followed another contested poll in 2008 in the southern African nation, which has rich reserves of minerals such as chrome, coal, platinum and gold.
A senior source in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that less than 15 hours after the polls had closed the result was already clear.
“We’ve taken this election. We’ve buried the MDC. We never had any doubt that we were going to win,” the source said, but gave no vote numbers.
Before party leader Tsvangirai spoke, a senior MDC source had called the election a “monumental fraud”.
Releasing unofficial results early in Zimbabwe is illegal, and police had said they would arrest anybody who did this.
If confirmed, Mugabe’s victory is likely to mean five more years of troubled relations with the West, where the former liberation fighter is regarded as a ruthless despot responsible for serious human rights abuses and wrecking the economy.
Western election observers were barred from entering the former British colony, but the head of an African Union monitoring mission said the polls had initially appeared “peaceful, orderly and free and fair” – an assessment also at odds with the view of independent agencies.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), the leading domestic monitoring body, said large numbers of people had been turned away from polling stations in MDC strongholds.
It also cast doubt on the authenticity of the voters’ roll, noting that 99.97 percent of voters in the countryside – Mugabe’s main source of support – were registered, against just 67.9 percent in the mostly pro-Tsvangirai urban areas.
In all, 6.4 million people, nearly half the population, had been registered to vote.
“It is not sufficient for elections to be peaceful for elections to be credible,” ZESN chairman Solomon Zwana told a news conference. “They must offer all citizens… an equal opportunity to vote.”
QUESTION OVER SANCTIONS
Several political sources told Reuters that top MDC members had lost their parliamentary seats, including some in the capital, Tsvangirai’s main support base since he burst onto the political scene in the former British colony 15 years ago.
Party insiders spoke of shock at the projected outcome, which is likely to come under intense scrutiny from Western governments.
The United States, which has sanctions in place against Mugabe and his inner circle, expressed concerns about the election’s credibility in advance, citing persistent pro-ZANU-PF bias in the state media and partisan security forces.
The view from Brussels, London and Washington is key to the future of Zimbabwe’s economy, which is still struggling with the aftermath of a decade-long slump and hyperinflation that ended in 2009 when the worthless Zimbabwe dollar was scrapped.
Ibbo Mandaza, a political analyst and academic based in Harare, said it was too early to tell what implications the disputed election might have for Western sanctions.
“The outcome of the election is fraudulent, we are in a crisis. I don’t know what the way out will be but it will be long and drawn out,” he said.
In March, the European Union suspended most sanctions against Zimbabwe after voters there approved a new constitution limiting presidential powers, opening the way for the election.
The International Monetary Fund agreed in June to monitor Zimbabwe’s programmes until the end of the year, paving the way for the country to clear billions of dollars of debt arrears.