Zimbabwe's government has warned candidates could be jailed for prematurely announcing election results after Nelson Chamisa's opposition MDC Alliance claimed to have won the general election and suggested it would call supporters on to the streets if the official result favoured Emmerson Mnangagwa, the president.
Mr Chamisa, a 40-year-old lawyer and preacher, said he was "winning resoundingly" as counting got under way and called on the country's electoral commission to "perform their constitutional duty to officially announce the people's election results". But Zimbabwe's electoral authorities had announced the results from just seven parliamentary constituencies by yesterday evening, and made no comment on the outcome. Zimbabwean law forbids anyone other than the electoral commission from announcing results.
"As a government we have noted with concern the actions and conduct of some political party leaders... who are openly declaring that they will announce results irrespective of provisions of the law," said Obert Mpofu, the home affairs minister, at a media briefing in Harare. "I am sure no one wants to provoke the wrath of the law and risk being sent to jail."
Electoral officials and the country's main observer organisation reported an unprecedented 80pc turnout in Zimbabwe's first presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections since Robert Mugabe was ousted in a military coup in November.
Zimbabwean law says official results must be released within five days of the poll. If no candidate in the presidential race wins more than 50pc of the vote there will be a run-off on September 8.
Justice Priscilla Chigumba, chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), said yesterday evening that Zanu PF had won seven seats in the 210-member parliament and the MDC Alliance one. She said the presidential result would not be released until returns from more than 10,000 polling stations had been collated. But the delay drew allegations of fraud from the MDC, which insisted it already had proof from polling station observers it had won the election and accused officials of delaying publication in order to falsify the vote.
"We have been pushing ZEC to announce the results. The results are posted outside of polling stations. We have collected those results," said Tendai Biti, a former MDC finance minister who ousted the Zanu PF incumbent in Harare East on Monday.