HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s rivals slammed his claim of election victory Thursday, branding the vote a “sham” and urging “passive resistance” as early results showed the Zimbabwean leader’s party taking a clear lead.
A top member of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party claimed that 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. “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 councilors.
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. “This election has been a huge farce.”
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said the count has been completed and results are 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 inflamed tensions in a country where political violence is common.
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,” he said. “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 polling, 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 would deliver its verdict Friday.
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.”