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Zim: First results released today

The elections have been described as relatively peaceful compared to 2008.

Supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai hold his portrait as they attend the final campaign rally 'Cross Over' on 29 July 2013 at the Freedom Square in Harare ahead of the general elections held on 31 July 2013. Picture: AFP.

HARARE - The first results from Zimbabwe's hotly contested presidential and parliamentary elections are expected to be released late on Thursday.

The elections have been described as relatively peaceful in comparison with the violent polls in 2008.

With vote counting underway, both major contenders - President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai - are predicting an outright victory.

The elections saw Mugabe and Tsvangirai go head-to-head for the third time.

Mugabe has been the only President the nation has known since it gained independence from Britain in 1980.

By law, the results have to be released by Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission (ZEC).

While ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau says the elections appeared to be free and fair, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Secretary-General Tendai Biti claimed that thousands of opposition supporters were completely denied the chance to cast their ballots.

"We had a situation where the voters' roll was so manipulated. Thousands and thousands of people were turned away yesterday."

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's neighbours say they're impressed at the way Wednesday's elections were handled.

The executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Thomas Salamao endorsed the manner in which the elections were conducted.

His remarks follow former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's, who is heading the African Union's (AU) observer mission. Obasanjo praised the election for being peaceful and orderly.

The African community's judgment on this process is deeply significant because, apart from token Chinese and Carribean observer missions, they are the only countries and organisations permitted to witness the polls.

AN END TO SANCTIONS?

Zimbabweans know that if Wednesday's elections receive international approval, it will lead to the easing of sanctions slapped on Mugabe's government for rigging polls in 2002 and 2008.

However, Tsvangirai's MDC has alleged massive rigging by Mugabe.

Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), a non-governmental organisation, alleged last month that the roll includes around one million dead voters or people who have moved abroad, as well as more than 100,000 people aged over 100 years old.

The MDC believes Mugabe used the ghost voters to rig the elections. However, this time, there are no international observers to confirm or reject this.

Many have criticised the endorsement of the elections by teams from the AU and SADC.

The electoral authorities promised to release the final results by Monday.

The vote will end an unstable power-sharing government formed after violence broke out when Mugabe claimed victory in the last election in 2008.