Monitors led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo noted some irregularities but that they did not constitute evidence of systematic tampering.

The African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) offered a cautious endorsement of Zimbabwe’s hastily conducted election that is likely to see Robert Mugabe extend his 33 year tenure as President.

The AU and SADC preliminary reports were presented a day after Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mr. Mugabe’s lead challenger, described the elections as a “huge farce”. In their reports, both bodies took note of serious deficiencies in the election process but concluded that these did not fatally damage the credibility of the election.

The Zimbabwe Election Commission is yet to declare the results of the Presidential polls, but early results indicate that Mr. Mugabe’s ZANU(PF) party is likely to win with an unprecedented margin amidst opposition allegations of widespread fraud.

“Of course there were challenges, but they were not challenges that we will regard as so bad that they will flaw the election irreparably,” said former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who headed the African Union’s observer mission. Mr. Obasanjo refused to comment on Mr. Tsvangirai’s allegations, describing him as an “interested party”, but said the electoral process’s shortcomings were honest errors arising out of constraints of time and money rather than deliberate fraud.

“We talk about a level playing field, I would say this election was played on a bumpy playing field. No election, anywhere in the world, is perfect,” said Aisha Abdullahi, A.U.’s political commissioner, who clarified that a final report on the elections would be published soon.

A.U.’s preliminary report expressed “grave concerns” over several aspects of the electoral process, including the registration of voters, the preparation of voter rolls, the overprinting of ballot papers, missing ballot papers and polarisation of the national media. “That the final voters roll was made publically available two days before the election,” the report noted, made it “rather late for meaningful inspection by voters, parties and candidates.”

SADC took a similar position in their preliminary report, noting that the voting process was free and largely peaceful, but stopped short of declaring the elections credible as their final report is still in preparation. SADC’s head of mission, Bernard Membe, called on “all political parties to respect and accept the election results” and to place any grievances before Zimbabwe’s courts.

Meanwhile at the ZANU(PF) headquarters, former Justice Minister and senior ZANU(PF) member Patrick Chinamasa described the election as a watershed election.

“These were crucial elections for the country to decide to turn left or right, to move forward or back. To be swallowed by the beast of western countries or to remain outside the beast,” he said.

Mr. Chinamasa refuted the opposition’s charges that the election commission had acted at the behest of the ZANU(PF), stating that all major political formations — including Mr. Tsvangirai’s — were represented in the commission.

He also clarified why Zimbabwe, a country under American and European sanctions, had declined to invite western election observers.

“You cannot expect to come to observe our elections when you impose sanctions against the very country that you want to observe. We regard you as biased, we regard you to come to our country with preconceived ideas,” said Mr. Chinamasa, “Observation is about impartiality, is about objectivity, and we do not regard those countries… as objective.”

More In: World | International | News