Speaking to reporters at the headquarters of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), a downbeat Tsvangirai said Wednesday’s vote should be considered invalid because of polling day irregularities and vote-rigging by 89-year-old Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.
“This has been a huge farce,” Tsvangirai said. “In our view, that election is null and void.” It was unclear whether he or his party will mount any kind of legal challenge.
The conflicting claims from the two main competing camps came even before Zimbabwe’s Electoral Commission had issued any official results, expected by Monday.
The largest independent observer group said the credibility of the poll was compromised because of voter registration irregularities, with thousands being disenfranchised.
Wednesday’s voting was peaceful across the southern African nation but the MDC’s outright rejection of the vote raises the prospect of an acrimonious dispute.
It also increases the chances of a repeat of the violence that followed another contested poll in 2008 in the southern African nation, which has rich reserves of minerals such as chrome, coal, platinum and gold.
A senior source in Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party, said that less than 15 hours after the polls had closed the result was already clear. “We’ve taken this election. We’ve buried the MDC. We never had any doubt that we were going to win,” the source said.
Before Tsvangirai spoke, a senior MDC source had called the election a “monumental fraud”.
Releasing unofficial results early in Zimbabwe is illegal, and police had said they would arrest anybody who did this.
If confirmed, Mugabe’s victory is likely to mean five more years of troubled relations with the West, where the former liberation fighter is regarded as a ruthless despot responsible for serious human rights abuses and wrecking the economy.
Western election observers were barred from entering, but the head of an African Union monitoring mission said the polls had appeared “free and fair”.