— Zimbabwe’s prime minister and an observer group have cried foul over Wednesday’s national vote - calling it “severely compromised.” Those charges follow allegations that the party of longtime President Robert Mugabe is trying to rig the election to keep the almost 90-year-old president in power. But officials connected to Mugabe deny the reports, and a regional observation mission praised the vote as free and fair. Election officials said Thursday that they were in the advanced stages of vote-counting.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai - President Mugabe’s main challenger - said Thursday that the vote was illegitimate and warned it could plunge the already troubled southern African nation into a “serious crisis.”
His Movement for Democratic Change party cited a number of problems - alleged manipulation of the voters’ roll, intimidation of voters and a failure to enact needed reforms ahead of the election.
“This has been a huge farce. The election does not meet SADC guidelines. It does not reflect the will of the people. It is a sham election which does not reflect the will of the people. It is our view that this election is null and void. It does not mean SADC, AU, international standards, for a credible, free and fair election," said Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai said in a statement that his party is calling on the Southern African Development Community and the African Union to audit the election.
His concerns mirror those of a large group of election observers, who said Wednesday’s election was “severely compromised.”
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an observation group comprised of nongovernmental organizations, said as many as 1 million urban voters were disenfranchised, that a number of ballots disappeared and that masses of voters were turned away during the Wednesday polls.
“Generally the environment was relatively calm and peaceful. Based on the empirical reports from our observers, regardless of the outcome, the credibility of the 2013 harmonized elections is seriously compromised by a systematic effort to disenfranchise an estimated million voters. Before Election Day the voter registration process was systematically biased against urban voters," said Solmon Zwana, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network
An electoral body connected to SADC, the regional bloc, said Thursday that the vote was free, fair and peaceful.
Mugabe’s government blocked Western groups from observing the poll.
Rugare Gumbo, a spokesman for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, dismissed claims of irregularities.
“It is a ploy to discredit the election," said Gumbo.
Tiseke Kasambala, Africa Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, said the calm on election day covers a more troubling situation.
"Despite the peace and calm that we saw on election day… there has been reports of a high number of irregularities, particularly related to the voters' roll, from credible sources, including the main observer body, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network. And in the run-up to election day, we ourselves obviously documented major flaws in the electoral process, including highly partisan security forces, the skewed voter registration process which made it difficult for those perceived to be MDC activists or supporters to register to vote, and restrictions on and intimidation and of journalists and civil society activists," said Kasambala.
Mugabe is 89 and has led Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980. Under Zimbabwe’s new constitution, he faces term limits for the first time but can still hold two more five-year terms.
Tsvangirai is challenging Mugabe for the third time. He became prime minister after mediators pushed the two men into a power-sharing government after violent 2008 elections.
The election commission has until August 5 to release the poll results.
Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai gestures during a media briefing in Harare, August 1, 2013.
Voters look at posted results outside a polling station in Harare, August 1, 2013.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe casts his vote in Harare, July 31, 2013.
Zimbabweans line up to cast votes in the country's general elections in Morondera, July 31, 2013.
An electoral worker watches as voters cast ballots in a Harare suburb, July 31, 2013.
A woman casts her vote in presidential and parliamentary elections in Harare, July 31, 2013.