HARARE: Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s party claimed it was headed for victory in crunch elections branded a “sham” by his rivals as international observers prepared to hand down their verdict on Friday.

    A leading opposition figure called for “passive resistance” over the outcome of Wednesday’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which the opposition and local monitors charge was riddled with flaws.

    Mugabe’s ZANU-PF forecast a landslide victory for the 89-year-old veteran leader over his longterm rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who is bidding to end his three-decade grip on power.

    “It’s the prediction that the president might likely get 70 [percent]to 75 percent,” party spokesman Rugare Gumbo said.

    Early official results for the national assembly showed that ZANU-PF had so far won 52 of 62 seats announced out of a total of 210 up for grabs.

    But Tsvangirai, trying for the third time to unseat his firebrand rival, on Thursday 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.

    “In our view this election is null and void,” Tsvangirai said. “This election has been a huge farce.”

    Foreign diplomats and independent local election observers also expressed deep misgivings about the poll, the first since violent, flawed elections in 2008, which saw Mugabe and Tsvangirai forced into an uneasy power-sharing deal.

    “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.”

    Tsvangirai, 61, stopped short of claiming victory himself, a move that could have enflamed tensions in the sanctions-hit 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.”

    “There needs to be resistance against this theft and the people of Zimbabwe need to speak out strongly.”

    Since no Western groups were allowed to monitor the polls, 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 will deliver its verdict on Friday.

    The African Union (AU), accused of whitewashing problems in the run-up to the vote, said initial reports indicated it was “peaceful, orderly, free and fair.”

    While there were “little incidences here and there”, these did not flaw the election “to the point of not reflecting the will of the people,” said former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who led the AU mission.



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