Zimbabwe vote called 'sham' a day after watershed elections

Challenger Morgan Tsvangirai blasts the vote as rigged and calls for investigation. But the African Union says vote is 'free and fair.'

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    Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai gestures during a media briefing in Harare August 1. Tsvangirai dismissed Wednesday's election as a 'huge farce' and said the results were invalid because of intimidation and ballot-rigging by President Robert Mugabe's ruling party, which is claiming victory.
    Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
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Yesterday’s election in Zimbabwe is being described by former prime minister and main challenger Morgan Tsvangirai as a “sham” and a “huge farce” that does not reflect “the will of the people” – as early indications show that President Robert Mugabe won a landslide victory for himself and his party.

The results have not yet been officially announced. But leading officials from the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF), Mr. Mugabe’s party, have told members of the foreign media, including Reuters, that Mugabe has won the watershed elections in what proved a tense but peaceful day of voting.

In response, Mr. Tsvangirai and a litany of  Zimbabwean civil society and monitoring groups are forcefully alleging vote rigging and manipulation – setting up what could be months of contention.

Charges of fraud include instances of shutting the polls in urban areas, despite long lines of voters that one group said “disenfranchised” 83 percent of some neighborhoods, as well as charges of voting lists where as many as 1 million names were of deceased persons.

Tsvangirai, in public comments today, disparaged what he expects to be Mugabe's victory claim that may be announced as soon as Friday: "This election has been a huge farce. Its credibility has been marred by administrative and legal violations which affect the legitimacy of its outcome. … It is a sham election that does not reflect the will of the people.”

The challenger, whose campaign team had been increasingly questioned about being too confident amid a probability of voter fraud, also called for an investigation by regional African organizations. That call includes the African Union, though yesterday the head of the AU’s 69-member observing team, former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo, described the elections as “free and fair.”

One Mugabe aide told Agence France-Presse: "We have romped [to victory] in a very emphatic manner. We have defeated the MDC."

The elections themselves proved to be largely peaceful, with voters wearing their respective party colors and going about their business normally. That is a contrast with 2008 elections that were notoriously bloody, and that showed Tsvangirai had defeated Mugabe in the first round.

Yet today, Solomon Zwana, chairman of Zimbabwe’s biggest election watchdog, the Election Support Network, offered that, “It is not sufficient for elections to be peaceful for elections to be credible. They [elections] must offer all citizens an equal opportunity to vote."

In Harare, the capital, the mood is somber and calm following what is being accepted popularly as a Tsvangirai loss to Mugabe. Among many, there is no surprise about the outcome. Other describe the future as seeming bleak.

“If it is true that Mugabe won, then I think it is the end for our country. We had hoped that our country would have a new beginning after decades of economic meltdown, but unfortunately this development will take us backwards because Mugabe does not want to engage the West,” said Tinashe Machingura, a student at Harare Polytechnic, a downtown college.

Most are too afraid to talk, while some prefer to wait the announcement from the official election commission.

Today, former education minister David Coltart said he was never given the legally required list of voters ahead of July 31, and called the election a “fraud.” He said he turned over six pieces of concrete evidence of breaches of the electoral law to the official observer mission.


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