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Zim polls: Police vow to crack down on leaked results

Vote-counting in the country's tightly contested election began late on Wednesday.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (L) casts his vote by his wife Grace and daughter Bona (R) at a polling booth in a school in Harare on 31 July, 2013. Picture: AFP.

HARARE - Police in Zimbabwe are warning they will arrest anyone found releasing unofficial election results.

Veteran President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have gone 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.

Vote-counting in the country's tightly contested election began late on Wednesday amid a high turnout of voters.

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

Both leaders have promised to respect the outcome of the polls. Although Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has vowed to push Africa's oldest leader into retirement after 33 years.

The polls were due to close at 7pm, but given the large number of people who hadn't cast their ballots, the deadline had to be extended until midnight as thousands remained in queues to vote.

Further delays were caused when many voters were turned away and then told by ZEC chairperson Rita Makarau to return to the polling stations to try again.

Makarau said although there were a few minor logistical problems, it appears the polls were free and fair.

However, she said a final verdict on the credibility of the elections would be made once all the necessary information had been collated.

RIGGING AND INTIMIDATION

Although the day was described as calm, it was marred by allegations of rigging and intimidation.

MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti claimed that thousands of opposition supporters were completely denied the chance to cast their ballots.

The Southern African Development Community's chief observer to Zimbabwe, Bernard Membe, expressed concern about the candidates going to the polls without the voters' roll.

Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), a non-governmental organisation, alleged last month that the role includes around 1 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 polls.

The African Union (AU) praised the election for being peaceful and orderly, despite it being unusual for election observers to make their feelings known until the process of counting votes was complete.

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

The electoral authorities promised to release the 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.

'I WILL SURRENDER'

Mugabe has promised to step down if he loses.

"Win or lose, you can't be both. You either win or you lose. If you lose you must surrender to those that have won," he said on Wednesday.

An uncharacteristically media-friendly Mugabe was stopped by reporters when he emerged from a polling station after voting.

One asked him, considering his age, whether he would serve out his full term if he won, to which he replied, "Why not?"

He denied allegations that his party was planning to rig the election, saying the accusation was simply politicking by the opposition.

He said there was no pressure on any voters and there would be a fair conclusion to the election.