Zimbabwe's two rival presidential candidates on Tuesday both claimed they were heading for victory as votes were counted in the country's first election since long-time ruler Robert Mugabe was ousted from power.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his ruling ZANU-PF party was receiving “extremely positive” data on the count, while the opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said his MDC party was “winning resoundingly”.
The claims pointed to a contested result in the historic election, raising the prospect of a battle over allegations of fraud and malpractice.
“The information from our reps on the ground is extremely positive! Waiting patiently for official results as per the constitution,” Mnangagwa, 75, Mugabe’s former right-hand man, said on Twitter.
Chamisa, 40, who raised allegations of voter fraud repeatedly during the campaign, said that his MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) party had results from most of the more than 10,000 polling stations.
“Winning resoundingly… We’ve done exceedingly well,” he said on Twitter after the landmark vote on Monday, adding “We are ready to form the next (government).”
Counting continued Tuesday after a strong turnout in Zimbabwe’s first election without Mugabe, who was ousted by the military in November after 37 years in office.
ZANU-PF has held an iron grip on power in Zimbabwe since independence from British colonial rule in 1980, and victory for the opposition would be a major upset.
Analysts have said it was unclear whether the generals, who back Mnangagwa, would accept a MDC win.
Many polling stations had queues and estimated turnout was around 75 percent before polls closed on Monday evening.
Zimbabwe’s much-criticised election authority declared Tuesday that there had been no rigging, after the opposition repeatedly alleged that the vote process was flawed.
“We are absolutely confident there was no rigging… we at the Zimbabwean Election Commission will not steal (the people’s) choice of leaders, we will not subvert their will,” ZEC chair Priscilla Chigumba said.
Previously-banned European Union election observers, present for the first time in years, said participation appeared high but warned of possible problems in the vote process.
“There are shortcomings that we have to check. We don’t know yet whether it was a pattern or whether it was a question of bad organisation in certain polling stations,” the EU’s chief observer Elmar Brok told AFP.
The bloc will deliver a preliminary report on the conduct of the election on Wednesday.
“Overall (there was) a huge amount of voting — especially young people, mostly in a very good atmosphere, generally peaceful, which is positive,” Brok added.
At one polling station in the capital Harare, officials had counted large piles of votes using gas lanterns and candles late into the night.
“I am not shy to say I voted for Chamisa. He is young and can understand our plight as youth,” said Ndumiso Nyoni, 20, a worker at a lodge in Lupane, western Zimbabwe.
Early results from the elections — which are presidential, parliamentary and local — are expected before the end of Tuesday. The full results are due by Saturday.
A presidential run-off will be held among the 5.6 million registered voters on September 8 if no candidate wins at least 50 percent of ballots in the first round.
Mugabe, 94, whose authoritarian regime held power via fraud-riddled and violent elections, voted in Harare alongside his wife Grace after a surprise press conference at his home on Sunday when he called for voters to reject ZANU-PF.
Mnangagwa was the clear election front-runner, benefitting from tacit military support, loyal state media and ruling party controls of government resources.
But Chamisa, a young lawyer and pastor who performed strongly on the campaign trail, sought to tap into the huge youth vote.
The new government must tackle mass unemployment and an economy shattered by the seizure of white-owned farms under Mugabe, the collapse of agriculture, hyperinflation and an investment exodus.
Previously solid health and education services are in ruins and millions have fled abroad to seek work.
In 2008, then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the presidential run-off against Mugabe after attacks orchestrated by the state claimed the lives of at least 200 of his supporters. DM
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