The party of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has claimed victory in Wednesday's elections, while the opposition says the poll was marred by fraud. Meanwhile, a domestic election watchdog has called foul over the vote.
Senior sources from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party told news agencies Thursday that it had convincingly won Wednesday's presidential poll, amid claims by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that there was "monumental fraud" at the election.
"We've taken this election. We've buried the MDC. We never had any doubt that we were going to win," one source, who asked not to be named, told the Reuters agency by phone.
The comments came despite police warnings that they would arrest anybody who made premature claims about the result. The official results are due within five days from Wednesday.
In response to the claim by ZANU-PF, a high-ranking source in the MDC party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai described the election as a "monumental fraud".
Later, speaking to a news conference at MDC headquarters in the capital, Harare, Tsvangirai told reporters, "This has been a huge farce. In our view, that election is null and void."
"It's a sham election that does not reflect the will of the people," he added.
The election is Tsvangirai's third attempt to replace the 89-year-old Mugabe as president.
Monitor group claims irregularities
On Wednesday evening, the head of an African Union observer mission had endorsed the elections, saying that they appeared at first glance to be "peaceful, orderly and free and fair."
But in an assessment made public on Thursday, the country's leading domestic monitoring agency, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), said the vote was "seriously compromised" by irregularities on voting day.
ZESN officials said thousands of urban voters, who mainly favor Tsvangirai, had been turned away from polling stations, while only a small number had been prevented from voting in the countryside, where Mugabe has a strong following.
"We reiterate that it is not sufficient for elections to be peaceful for elections to be credible," Solomon Zwana, the chief of ZESN, said.
The MDC has also claimed irregularities in the run-up to the poll. Mugabe has dismissed all such accusations as opposition propaganda, and says voting went without a hitch.
The early claims by the competing parties raise fears of a disputed outcome accompanied by violence, as occurred in a 2008 election.
tj/rc (dpa, Reuters, AFP)