Mugabe's party hails Zimbabwe vote that Tsvangirai calls 'sham'

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Robert Mugabe's party Thursday hailed general elections as fair after his main rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, called them a "sham."

"Everything was free and fair," Saviour Kasukuwere, a politburo member of Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front party, said Thursday by phone. The results "are smelling very good" for Zanu-PF, he said.

Tsvangirai, speaking earlier in Harare, said the presidential and parliamentary elections held Wednesday were rigged and his Movement for Democratic Change party wouldn't accept the results.

"In our view the election is null and void," he said. "The shoddy manner in which it was conducted and the consequent illegitimacy of the result will plunge this country into a serious crisis."

Tsvangirai, who's bidding to end Mugabe's 33-year rule, said thousands of people were turned away because they weren't on the electoral roll, voters were bused to cast ballots outside their home areas and the election process was controlled by the security forces.

"I'm surprised the prime minister would make such accusations," said Kasukuwere, who's the minister for indigenization, the policy championed by Mugabe to increase the holdings of black Zimbabweans in the economy. "This is a resounding stamp of approval for our policies."

Mugabe, 89, and ZANU-PF have forced mining companies such as Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Anglo American Platinum Ltd. to cede a majority share of their local assets to black Zimbabweans or the government. The southern African nation has the world's second-biggest platinum and chrome reserves as well as deposits of diamonds, gold and coal. Tsvangirai, 61, has promised to repeal the measure.

"If it turns out that Zanu-PF takes it, the country will continue to stumble along as it has over the past 12 months," Christie Viljoen, an economist at NKC Independent Economists in Paarl, South Africa, said by phone. "People are still interested but not committing money because of the whole indigenization process. The economy isn't going to improve."

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, which fielded 7,000 observers, called the vote "seriously compromised" because of a "systematic effort to disenfranchise" as many as 1 million urban voters, according to an e-mailed statement. Nationwide there were 6.4 million registered voters, according to the electoral commission. George Charamba, a spokesman for Mugabe, declined to comment.

The rejection of the vote by Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change followed a campaign largely free of the violence that marred the last Mugabe-Tsvangirai contest in 2008. Tsvangirai led the first round of that election before he pulled out of a run-off saying about 200 of his supporters had been killed. The MDC beat Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front in the parliamentary ballot.

"It's pretty clear there was mass disenfranchisement, especially for people in the urban areas," Piers Pigou, a researcher at the International Crisis Group, said Thursday by phone from Johannesburg. "Zanu-PF was very well organized and they resuscitated their patronage networks with great success."

The electoral commission and the head of the African Union observer mission, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, said Wednesday the vote was peaceful and "free and fair."

Mugabe Wednesday dismissed complaints as "politicking" in remarks to reporters after he voted.

The Zimbabwe monitor group called on the African Union and the Southern African Development Community observers to be "objective in their evaluation" of the vote.

"There's a difference between an election being orderly and it being credible," Pigou said. "The fact they're making these statements backing the vote so early on raises eyebrows."

The election was set to end a coalition government accord arranged in 2009 by the 15-nation SADC after the violence-ridden election the year before. The deal left Mugabe, who's led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, as president and named Tsvangirai prime minister.

The commission said on July 13 that it would announce results of the presidential vote by Aug. 5. The process took about a month in 2008. It hasn't set a date for results from the parliamentary ballot to be released.