Election officials in Zimbabwe say President Robert Mugabe has won re-election, with a clear majority of the votes. But opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai is alleging massive vote-rigging and says he will not recognize the election results.
Wednesday afternoon, truckloads of ZANU PF supporters paraded through the streets of Harare celebrating Mr. Mugabe's victory.
According to official results released by the registrar-general, Mr. Mugabe took roughly 54 percent of the vote, compared to about 40 percent for opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.
Officials say Mr. Tsvangirai won easily in the larger cities, Harare and Bulawayo, as well as the southern provinces of Matabeleland. But according to the officials, Mr. Mugabe won by massive margins in many rural areas of the country, by more than 30,000 votes in some constituencies.
President Mugabe and his ZANU PF party had been predicting a huge victory for months. But until this week, opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai believed he could earn enough votes to take the presidency.
Mr. Tsvangirai says his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, does not accept the official results.
The opposition leader says the Zimbabwean people are seething with anger because "they have been cheated out of their right to democratically elect their own leaders." "The people of Zimbabwe know better that this election, as announced by the registrar general's office, does not reflect the true will of the people of Zimbabwe and are consequently illegitimate in the eyes of the people," said Mr. Tsvangirai. "We therefore as MDC do not accept this result."
The opposition leader said tens of thousands of his supporters were turned away from the polls in Harare. And he says his party's polling agents were not able to monitor the ballot-counting in roughly half the rural districts because they had either been kidnapped by ruling-party militants or arrested.
The MDC says an absence of their polling agents left nothing to prevent the ruling party from tampering with the ballot boxes.
Mr. Tsvangirai would not say whether he plans to challenge the election outcome in court.
There has been a mixed reaction to the election result from African election observer groups. The South African observer mission has declared that the election result should be seen as legitimate. Chief observer Sam Motsuenyane said the poll was marred by violence, biased media coverage and poor administration on the voting days, especially in Harare. But he urged the world to respect the outcome.
"We have stayed clear from the word 'free and fair' because we believe against the background we have painted in our general report, the violence we have observed and the legislative changes that were made just before the elections, we cannot openly declare it free and fair, said Mr. Motsuenyane. "But we think that because the people came and because the parties participated in the process, the people of Zimbabwe have expressed their will and wish through the ballot box."
The observers representing the Parliamentary Forum of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) issued a much more harshly worded statement, essentially condemning the elections as terminally flawed.
The head of the SADC Parliamentary Forum team, Duke Lefhoko of Botwsana, says the poll was seriously marred on many levels, including a shortage of polling stations in Harare; biased media coverage, especially by the state-run media; problems with voter registration and the voter's roll, and questions about the fairness of the ballot-counting process. But his harshest statements dealt with the violence that preceded the poll.
"Evidence indicated that the majority of those affected were supporters of the MDC or those perceived to be opponents of the ruling party and government," said Mr. Lefhoko. "Acts of violence appeared to be systematically employed by youth in youth camps dotted around the country."
All SADC nations, including Zimbabwe, have agreed to a series of election norms and standards that should be met during all elections in the region.
Mr. Lefhoko says the Zimbabwean presidential poll did not comply with those norms and standards. It is about the harshest criticism the SADC Parliamentary Forum can give.
It is not clear what the ramifications of that declaration will be. Mr. Lefhoko is urging SADC governments to engage with the Zimbabwean leadership to facilitate dialogue and reconciliation.