Zimbabwe

Vote 'free and fair', says election head

2013-07-31 22:31

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Harare - Zimbabwe's elections on Wednesday appeared to have been "free and fair", said Rita Makarau, head of the country's election commission.

She added, however, that a final verdict would only be issued once more information was compiled.

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

In some areas of the country long queues remained even after the official 19:00 (17:00 GMT) closing time, but the commission said all voters at polling stations would be allowed to vote until midnight.

President Robert Mugabe is facing one of the biggest challenges to his 33-year grip on power, with the election too tight to call.

AP reported that vote counting was expected to begin on Wednesday night and final results are expected by Monday.

Zimbabweans voted in large numbers despite concerns about the credibility of the electoral process, and the vote was relatively peaceful compared to disputed and violent polls in 2008.

Polling officials and party agents brought blankets to polling stations so that they could sleep next to the polling boxes to make sure they were not tampered with.

Some election observers noted cases of registered voters being turned away from the polls.

There have been worries about oversights in the hasty preparations for the vote, as well as fears of alleged vote-rigging of the kind that occurred in past elections.

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

He said according to initial reports, the elections seem to have passed off smoothly.

"The conduct of the election... has been peaceful, orderly, free and fair," said Obasanjo, who leads a 69-member observation team.

The AU mission had been criticised by Mugabe's main challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, for painting a rosy picture of vote preparations.

Bundled against the winter chill, thousands of voters stood patiently in long lines in the poor Harare township of Mbare and other areas.

Some wary voters said they would bring their own pens into the voting booth after hearing rumors that the ink in state-provided pens would disappear after several hours, enabling ballot manipulation.

The International Crisis Group, a research organisation, said it fears a return to a protracted political crisis and possibly extensive violence if the Zimbabwe poll is inconclusive and disputed.



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