x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mugabe's rivals brand Zimbabwe poll 'a sham'

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.

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 Mr Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party claimed he had trounced Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change 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 Mr Tsvangirai, bidding for a third time to end 89-year-old Mr 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 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 Msrs Tsvangirai and Mugabe.

Mr Tsvangirai stopped short of claiming victory himself, a move that could have inflamed tensions in a country where political violence is common.

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."

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 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.

Since no Western groups were allowed to monitor the polls, the view of observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) - which will deliver its verdict today - may now be pivotal in deciding how the international community reacts.

After years of international sanctions there had been hopes that a free election would allow Zimbabwe to reset relations with the West.

Turnout was reported to be high, with many of the 6.4 million eligible voters queuing before sunrise in the winter cold, hours before polls opened. The lines continued well into the evening, with many marking their ballots by candle light.

Mr Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader, is seeking a seventh term but Mr 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.