, HARARE, Aug 2 – Robert Mugabe’s rivals rubbished his claim to election victory on Thursday, branding the vote a “sham” and urging “passive resistance” as early results showed the Zimbabwean president’s party taking a clear lead.
A top member of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party claimed Mugabe had trounced Prime Minister 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” (votes).
First official results from the disputed national assembly elections showed Mugabe’s party storming ahead, winning 52 of 62 seats announced.
Zimbabwe’s 6.4 million eligible voters were choosing a president, 210 lawmakers and municipal councillors.
But Tsvangirai, who is making his third bid to end 89-year-old Mugabe’s 33-year rule, quickly slapped down the victory claims.
“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 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.
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.
But top MDC official Roy Bennett called for a campaign of “passive resistance.”
“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, chairman 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 spokesman 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.
Meanwhile the African Union, accused of whitewashing problems in the run-up to the vote, said initial reports indicated it was “peaceful, orderly, free and fair”.
While there were “little incidences here and there”, these did not flaw the election “to the point of not reflecting the will of the people,” judged former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who led the AU mission.