Results from Zimbabwe’s high-stakes presidential elections have yet to come in, but President Robert Mugabe’s main opponent, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has already declared the election “null and void.”
"The shoddy manner in which it has been conducted and the consequent illegitimacy of the result will plunge this country into a serious crisis," Tsvangirai warned, raising concerns of illegitimacy and vote rigging.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a local poll monitoring group, also claimed that despite a lack of violence, the poll had been compromised by a campaign to prevent voters from casting ballots, particularly in urban areas when Tsvangirai’s party, Movement for Democratic Change, has a large base.
“We should not judge this election on the basis of peace and calm,” the group told The New York Times. “There are other factors to take into account.”
Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of African Union observer mission and former Nigerian president, has said that reports of wrongdoings and irregularities would be investigated, “but have not yet been substantiated.”
Mugabe and the ruling ZANU-PF party have denied vote-rigging.
The state election commission is expected to deliver the final results by Monday.
The elections will determine if controversial President Robert Mugabe, 89, will continue his three-decade long rule or be replaced by his main opponent, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, 61, of the Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.) party.
The two men faced off in the 2008 presidential election, but Tsvangirai — who received the most votes in the first round — ultimately withdrew from the runoff because of widespread voter intimidation that left at least 200 dead. Upon winning the presidency, Mugabe bowed to international pressure and agreed to a power-sharing deal that appointed his opponent as Prime Minister.
Early Wednesday morning, thousands of Zimbabweans endured winding lines and frigid winter weather to vote. Voters arrived at the polls in the capital of Harare before dawn with heavy coats, scarves and flasks of hot drinks.
"It is moving slowly, but I am here for as long as it takes,” Isaac Rufaro told USA Today. “We have got to get this done.”
Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai have predicted their own definitive victories in this year’s election, but Tsvangirai alleged throughout his campaign that Mugabe’s supporters had resorted to vote-rigging once again.
After casting his ballot in a school in Harare’s Highfields township, Mugabe assured reporters that people would vote “freely and fairly.” “There’s no pressure being exerted on anyone,” he added. On the eve of Election Day, the president vowed to step down if he lost the election.
There have been little to no local reports of the widespread political violence and voter intimidation that tarnished the 2008 elections. Complaints of exceedingly long lines and a chaotic election process have been the main issues raised at some of the polling stations, which amount to more than 9,000 across the country.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell spoke out against the “lack of transparency in electoral preparations, the continued partisan behavior by state security institutions and the technical, logistical issues hampering the administration of a credible and transparent election."
Prior to Election Day, the opposing candidate had complained of the electoral commission’s ineptitude to manage the voting process. A number of registered voters, foreign reporters and M.D.C. supporters also raised concerns about the voters roll, which was publicly released two days before the elections and included the names of deceased individuals and duplicates.
“We’ve already made clear this election is illegal, illegitimate, unfree and unfair,” said M.D.C. secretary general Tendai Biti at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon. “We are participating with a heavy heart.”
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(Photo: REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)