Zimbabwe electoral body says vote was fair; 1st results due from 3pm

Emmerson Mnangagwa

The turnout varied from 60 to 78 per cent with some areas still reporting.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, accused of engineering flawed election wins for Mugabe in the past, has said this vote will be free and fair.

"It is our view that the high voter turnout is indicative of the sound voter education and publicity conducted on a receptive electorate", Priscilla Chigumba, electoral commission chief, told reporters in the capital, Harare. "We will not subvert their will".

Zimbabweans are also electing 210 members of parliament and more than 9,000 councillors.

With results expected to start trickling from Monday night, the focus now shifts to whether the vote was credible - a key pillar needed to rebuild the southern African nation's global reputation and economy that was laid to waste under Mugabe's 37-year rule. The historic election is the first since the fall of longtime leader Robert Mugabe.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his ruling ZANU-PF party was receiving "extremely positive" data, while opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said the MDC party was "winning resoundingly".

Both candidates issued upbeat assessments of how they did, but said they were waiting for the electoral commission to make the final announcement as required by law. "He is a citizen, I can engage him any time, he can engage me any time if there is an issue for me to discuss or him to discuss".

The first results from Zimbabwe's landmark election will be released earlier than expected, in what appears to be an attempt to defuse the prospect of widespread protests over the ballot. "We've done exceedingly well", he tweeted.

If required, Zimbabwe's 5.6 million registered voters would be asked to return to the polls to vote in a presidential run-off on September 8.

The President was ushered into the polling station by polling officers where he went through the process of checking his identity particulars against the information on the voters roll.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of intimidation and threats of violence in the run-up to polling day, but said it was encouraged to see open rallies and peaceful demonstrations.

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The ruling Zanu-PF party has been in power since independence in 1980.

"I came here last night, I slept outside of the gate, because I was afraid of the queue since I want to vote early", said 23-year-old Rolta Taika.

He voted with his wife Grace and daughter Bona in Highfield, a high-density township in Harare.

Parliamentary and local elections are also taking place on Monday.

Elmar Brok, head of the European Union monitoring mission, said Tuesday that his team had noted some "inconsistencies", but overall, there was "progress" compared to past elections. On July 4, the army vowed to remain neutral in the elections, despite having been an influential actor in the removal of Mugabe last November.

Activists said the results were still too close to call but the general trend appeared to be in the opposition's favour.

Holding a peaceful vote that is accepted as fair at home and overseas is essential if Zimbabwe is to exit painful sanctions and secure the donor funding and investment needed to stem chronic cash shortages.

Despite Mugabe's troubled legacy, dozens of cheering Zimbabweans gathered outside the polling station in the capital where he voted.

"We need change because we have suffered a lot here", said 65-year-old Mable Mafaro while voting in Harare. Zimbabweans are looking forward to a good post-Mugabe change.

People look at results placed outside a polling station in Harare.

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