Zimbabwe Election Ruled Fair By African Union

Zimbabwe's presidential election was a "huge farce," according to the opposition challenger. He alleges massive vote rigging by veteran President Robert Mugabe. But the African Union said that aside from a few incidents, the voting was free and fair.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. We begin in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe and his party are predicting a landslide victory in the election held earlier this week. But the opposition is crying voter fraud, and threatening protests. From the capital, Harare, NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

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OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Campaign rallies leading up to Wednesday's vote in Zimbabwe were peaceful and energetic, but the fallout from what looks likely to be another disputed election has left a distinctly bitter taste in the mouths of the opposition.

President Mugabe's main challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been his reluctant partner as prime minister in a political power-sharing government for the past four years. Tsvangirai says the election was a complete farce, and his Movement for Democratic Change - MDC - claims the vote, and the process, were rigged. MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti is Zimbabwe's outgoing finance minister in the coalition cabinet.

TENDAI BITI: This is the grandmother of all electoral rigging because they do not have the people, they do not have legitimacy, and they do not have the capacity of running this government.

QUIST-ARCTON: But there's been broad endorsement for the conduct of Zimbabwe's election by the main African observer missions. Western observers were not invited. The head of the Southern African Development Community's observer delegation - Tanzania's foreign minister, Bernard Membe - has appealed to all sides to accept the results.

BERNARD MEMBE: This - elections, under the circumstances, have gone well. We cannot now say there should be an idea of nullification. We must accept the facts, no matter how painful this might be.

QUIST-ARCTON: But the African Union observer team raised serious concerns about inconsistencies in the voter registration lists, which were made public at the very last moment; as well as the printing of more than 2 million extra ballots, and voters being turned away at polling stations. A spokesman for Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, Psychology Maziwisa, has dismissed the allegations as opposition propaganda, and says the president's opponents have been, simply, out-maneuvered.

PSYCHOLOGY MAZIWISA: As to whether or not our voters' roll has 1 million dead voters, look, that is not true; it's not factual. You don't find perfect standards anywhere; you don't find them in the United States of America, and we would hope that you don't expect to find them in Zimbabwe.

QUIST-ARCTON: One of Tsvangirai's top aides, Roy Bennett, has called for a boycott campaign in Zimbabwe, if Mugabe is declared the winner. The president has been in power for 33 years and at 89, is one of the world's oldest leaders. Bennett, the opposition MDC's treasurer, says Tsvangirai and the party leadership must act decisively, and fight back.

ROY BENNETT: You start off with passive resistance, where people's lives are not put at risk. We're talking about people completely shutting the country down - don't pay any bills, don't attend work; just bring the country to a standstill. If Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC don't step to the party then yes, I do definitely think it's the end for the MDC.

QUIST-ARCTON: Mugabe's party says if the president wins, then Tsvangirai is free to dispute the results - but in court. Zimbabweans hope that whatever the outcome, it must be peaceful; and avoid the political violence that marred the 2008 election and led to a long period of unrest, economic collapse and desperation.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Harare.

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