By Nelson Banya and Nyasha Chingono
HARARE (Reuters) -Partial results from Zimbabwe’s parliamentary election suggested the ruling party’s lead was growing on Friday, but election observers said the vote did not meet international standards and was conducted in a “climate of fear”.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF party was widely expected to maintain its 43-year grip on power after Zimbabweans voted in a parliamentary and presidential poll on Wednesday.
A tally by state broadcaster ZBC showed ZANU-PF winning 101 parliamentary constituencies and the main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) winning 59, out of a total of 210.
The result of the presidential vote has not been announced yet. It is expected within five days of voting.
Mnangagwa, 80, is seeking re-election at a time when the southern African country is grappling with soaring inflation and high unemployment, with many Zimbabweans reliant on dollar remittances from relatives abroad to make ends meet.
His main challenger is 45-year-old lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa.
Zimbabwe’s chances of resolving a debt crisis and obtaining World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans are at stake, as foreign lenders have said a free and fair vote is a pre-condition for any meaningful talks.
The government and electoral commission promised a clean election. But some political analysts said it was likely to be heavily skewed in Mnangagwa’s favour given his party’s history of using state institutions to manipulate results.
“Curtailed rights and lack of level playing field led to an environment that was not always conducive to voters making a free and informed choice,” the head of the European Union’s observer mission, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, said.
“Acts of violence and intimidation resulted in a climate of fear,” he told a news conference in the capital Harare, adding that the election did not meet international standards for transparency.
Police violently arrested members of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Election Resource Centre (ERC) on Wednesday, both civil society groups that had said they were monitoring the vote in the interests of democracy, Castaldo said.
The ERC later posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that 16 of its staff together with Zimbabwe Election Support Network members had been released on $200 bail each by a magistrate.
An observer team from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) said voting was peaceful but noted issues including voting delays, the banning of rallies, biased state media coverage and the failure of the electoral commission to give candidates access to the voters’ role.
“Some aspects of the harmonised elections fell short of the requirements of the constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act and the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections,” the head of the team, Nevers Mumba, said.
ZANU-PF secretary for finance Patrick Chinamasa told reporters late on Thursday the ruling party was on course to achieve a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, while he predicted Mnangagwa was “on target” for 60%-65% of the vote.
He dismissed Chamisa’s claim that he was leading in the polls as “day-dreaming”.
Eldred Masunungure, a politics lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said there were fears that if ZANU-PF got a two-thirds majority it would try to pass laws to cement its hold on power, for example by removing the two-term limit on presidential terms.
Mnangagwa last week told state media that if he got a second term, it would be his last.
He took over from longtime strongman Robert Mugabe after a 2017 coup and won a disputed election in 2018.
As in previous elections, the parliamentary results appeared to show ZANU-PF retaining its rural base, while the CCC captured the urban vote.
(Reporting by Nelson Banya and Nyasha Chingono; Writing by Bhargav Acharya and Nellie Peyton; Editing by Alexander Winning, Devika Syamnath and Andrew Heavens)