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Counting underway for "free and fair" Zimbabwe election: authorities


08:47, August 01, 2013

HARARE, July 31 (Xinhua) -- The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) said Wednesday general elections were conducted free and fair and that counting of the vote has begun.

ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau told a press briefing held after the polls were closed that she believed the elections were free and fair based on reports filed by ZEC officers on the ground.

About 6.4 million people, about half of the population, were registered to vote in over 9,000 polling stations to choose between the 89-year-old veteran President Robert Mugabe and his long-time political rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai for the country's top post for the next five years.

Voter turnout was high as queues were still long in the provinces of Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East and Matabeleland North by 6 p.m. local time, an hour before the polls were officially closed, Makarau said. Voters who were already in the queues were allowed to proceed even until past mid- night.

Statistics can only be available on Thursday as earliest, Makarau said.

Meanwhile, vote counting has started in places where the polls were closed. The electoral body said results can be expected in five days.

Makarau said some minor glitches were reported during the one- day vote, including the arrest of 20 people in Harare for trying to use fake registration slips to vote, but the impact was minimal.

Earlier in the day, Finance Minister Tendai Biti, the third- ranking official in Tsvangirai's MDC-T party, alleged irregularities in the polls including the voters' lists and ballot paper.

However, the peaceful electoral process got the nod from chief African Union (AU) observer, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who described the process as "peaceful, orderly, free and fair."

Pitted against each other in the third presidential race in a decade, both Mugabe and Tsvangirai were hopeful that they will romp to victory.

After casting his vote, Tsvangirai described this year's election as "historic" and "emotional" for all Zimbabweans.

Mugabe, on the other hand, said his chances of victory were as good as in 1980 when his Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party grabbed 57 out of 80 parliamentary seats upon independence from Britain.

After casting his vote in a primary school in south Harare, Mugabe said he and his party have "lots of things to do to get our economy back on its feet."

A run-off would take place on Aug. 11 if no candidate secures over 50 percent of the vote.

Police announced the arrests of several Tsvangirai supporters for illegal possession of electoral forms used by the ZEC to compile election results.

Tsvangirai pledged in one of his rallies that his party will do parallel vote counting to avoid rigging by the poll authorities.

Police national spokesperson Charity Charamba said the ZEC has the sole mandate of collating and making public poll results.

She said people who attempt to announce poll results before the ZEC does will risk arrest.

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