Thousands queue to vote in presidential poll as incumbent president and prime minister seek electoral victory.
The African Union’s observer mission chief has declared Zimbabwe’s elections as “fairly fair” and credible, while observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) praised them for being free and peaceful.
The AU said on Friday it was reserving its judgment on whether the country’s presidential and general elections were systematically flawed until details of the disputed vote were clarified. The SADC added that it was too early to declare Zimbabwe’s disputed election fair.
President Robert Mugabe’s party has claimed a landslide victory in Wednesday’s elections, but his rival Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s prime minister, called the poll a “huge farce”, amid allegations of electoral irregularities and manipulation.
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has said that it could take to the streets to challenge the result if the 89-year-old leader and his party, ZANU-PF, wins the vote, as early counts indicate.
However, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who heads the AU’s vote monitoring mission, said on Friday that flaws in the electoral process had not stopped the will of the people from being expressed.
Obasanjo told Al Jazeera that the assessment that the AU mission had of the presidential and general elections was that they were “fairly fair”.
“We justified that by the process which led to the election itself, it was free,” he said.
Independent assessors had found a bias in Zimbabwe’s media and said that though 99.97 percent of rural voters were registered, only 67.94 percent of urban voters made it to the voters’ roll.
However, Obasanjo told Al Jazeera that the AU had a team in Zimbabwe for the election campaign from June 15 and that it had found that anyone who wanted to register had registered.
“I do not know how people come to these figures,” Obasanjo said of the independent assessment in his interview with Al Jazeera.
“You do not wait until the 31st of July to complain about registration.
“If the registration had not gone well you will have complained when the registration was going on or immediately after the completion of the registration.”
Obasanjo said that the campaign had been fair and free and the AU had not found any issues of hindrance during the campaign.
He said earlier that voting was peaceful but that observers noted “incidences that could have been avoided and even tended to have breached the law”.
The mission is asking election authorities in Zimbabwe to investigate reports that large numbers of eligible voters were turned away from polling stations.
The SADC said in a written statement that the elections dismissed by Tsvangirai as a sham were free and peaceful.
Bernard Membe, the SADC’s top election observer, later qualified the statement.
“We have said this election is free, indeed very free,” he said.
“We didn’t say it was fair simply because the question of fairness is broad. We didn’t just want to come to a conclusion at this stage.”
Tsvangirai said on Thursday that the elections’ credibility had been marred by administrative and legal violations.
His comments came on the heels of remarks made by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a coalition of local non-government organisations monitoring elections in the country, which earlier described Wednesday’s vote as “seriously compromised”.
“Up to a million voters were disenfranchised,” Solomon Zwana, the chairman of ZESN, said on Thursday.
The mood on the streets of the capital Harare was subdued on Friday as the MDC’s top leadership met at its headquarters to chart their next move, with everything from a legal challenge to street protests on the table.
“Demonstrations and mass action are options,” party spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said.