Zimbabwe's ruling party claims that President Robert Mugabe "romped" to victory in yesterday's national election, but his main rival is already disputing the entire process. Despite the fact that official vote totals have not been revealed Mugabe's Zanu-PF party claims to have "buried" opponent Morgan Tsvangirai at the polls. (They've since pulled back that claim online, since they leaking election results early is illegal.) However, Tsvangirai — who serves as Prime Minister in a shaky power-sharing government — said on Thursday that the election was "a huge farce' and a "sham" that was ruined by numerous violations of election laws.
Independent election monitors seem to agree. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network said on Thursday morning that "the election is seriously compromised," mainly due to irregularities between urban districts (where Tsvangirai has his strongest support) and rural districts. The ZESN says voters were turned away from urban polling stations at a rate nearly twice that of the rural stations, where Mugabe's party holds sway. They also alleged that village leaders marched voters to polls and monitored who the people were casting their ballots for, or forced villagers to pretend they were illiterate so someone else could cast their vote for them.
However, another monitoring group, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), praised the smooth election and called it "credible," despite some logistical problems.
Mugabe, who is 89 years old, has promised to step down if he fails to win for a seventh straight time, but it seems as though he was counting on not having to follow through on that threat. He has essentially been in power since the nation's independence 33 years ago, but his rule has made Zimbabwe synonymous with corruption and economic mismanagement around the globe. Misappropriation of farm land and other natural resources has led to food shortages and war and made hyperinflation there a running joke, with the national bank printing 100 trillion dollar bills and stories of toilet paper costing $400 a sheet and loaves of bread (if you can even find them) running in the tens of billions in the local money. The country eventually abandoned its own currency in 2008.
It's not known what will happen if Tsvangirai decides to contest the results, as there are already indications that Mugabe will move quickly to silence dissent. The last election in 2008 brought heavy violence, which eventually led to a new constitution and the power-sharing government, but there already unconfirmed reports of riot police being deployed near the headquarters of Tsvangirai's party headquarters. The danger of a new round of chaos and fighting is still present, particularly if the idea that voters were cheated out of a fair result continues to persist.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.