Zimbabwe PM calls poll a 'huge farce'

Mugabe rival Tsvangirai's criticism follows poll watchdog's finding that urban voters in his stronghold were rejected.

    Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's prime minister, has called the southern African country's elections a "huge farce", one day after his latest attempt to end President Robert Mugabe's 33-year rule.

    The Movement For Democratic Change presidential candidate told a press conference on Thursday that Wednesday's elections did not meet Southern African Development Community guidelines.

    "Its credibility has been marred by administrative and legal violations which affect the legitimacy of its outcome," Tsvangirai said.

    "It is a sham election that does not reflect the will of the people".

    Zimbabwe's leading domestic election monitoring agency said earlier on Thursday that the credibility of the elections had been "seriously compromised" by irregularities on polling day.

    Officials from the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said that urban voters, who mainly favour Tsvangirai had been turned away from polling stations in their thousands.

    Only a small number had been prevented from voting in the countryside, where Mugabe has most support, ZESN officials said.

    The African Union (AU) had said initial reports indicated the elections were "peaceful, orderly, free and fair".

    Turnout was reported to be high nationwide after queues of Zimbabweans  lined up hours before polling opened Wednesday to cast their ballots in a vote that could see Mugabe extend his 33-year rule.

    The 89-year-old, Africa's oldest leader, is seeking a seventh term in office but his longtime rival Morgan Tsvangirai hopes the election will usher in a new era for the troubled southern African nation.

    Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a senior MDCT member, said the names of  thousands of voters were missing from the electoral roll.

    Speaking after a meeting with the electoral commission, Biti said: "They are admitting that there's still two million people who are dead on the voters' roll, but they said 'because they're dead, they can't vote'."

    The MDC handed its evidence to observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and since no Western groups were allowed to monitor the polls, its account will be closely watched.

    Rita Makarau, the head of the election commission, told a news conference in the capital Harare on Wednesday night that those who were unable to vote would be given the opportunity to cast their ballots until midnight.

    Mohammed Adow reports from Zimbabwe

    Makarau reported what she called "a few minor logistical problems" where voting started slowly, and appealed to people to put forward any evidence of voting irregularities. 

    She confirmed that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had received reports of 20 fake voter registration slips in Hatfield, a suburb in the capital Harare.

    The matter is being investigated, Al Jazeera's Azad Essa reported from Harare.

    Tsvangirai, 61, a former trade union leader narrowly beat Mugabe in the last elections in 2008 but boycotted a presidential run-off vote to protest widespread violence against his Movement for Democratic Change party.

    A third candidate, Welshman Ncube, leader of a breakaway faction of Tsvangirai's party called MDC-N, is likely to draw votes from Tsvangirai in the western Matabeleland provinces.

    Tendai Biti, the third-ranking official in the opposition and finance minister, reported alleged irregularities across several districts, including changes to voters' lists and ballot papers.

    But "we are encouraged by the high turnout. We remain confident in spite of all these challenges," Biti said late on Wednesday.

    The head of AU observer mission, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said reports of irregularities "will be investigated but have not yet been substantiated".

    Activists believe a big turnout is likely to favour Tsvangirai, by blunting the impact of any manipulation of voters' rolls. Mugabe, who barred Western observer missions, says allegations of vote-rigging amount to mudslinging by opponents. 

    Tendai Biti, the third-ranking official in the opposition and finance minister, reported alleged irregularities across several districts, including changes to voters' lists and ballot papers.

    The head of African Union observer mission, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, said reports of irregularities "will be investigated but have not yet been substantiated".

    Activists believe a big turnout is likely to favour Tsvangirai, by blunting the impact of any manipulation of voters' rolls.

    Mugabe, who barred Western observer missions, says allegations of vote-rigging amount to mudslinging by opponents.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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