Harare, Zimbabwe The first results from the highly contested election are expected today.
Zimbabweans voted peacefully and in strong numbers Sunday in the final day of parliamentary elections, but international observers declared the polls tainted by a dirty campaign.
The country's most closely contested parliamentary election since it gained independence was marred by violence and intimidation during the campaign and therefore not free and fair, said Pierre Schori, the head of the European Union observer mission.
Schori said today that although the two days of voting ending Sunday evening were conducted with efficiency and professionalism, the run-up to the balloting had flawed the election outcome.
"The term free and fair elections is not applicable to these elections," Schori said in an interim statement.
Schori will issue a full report on the election next week, after the votes have been counted and the country's reaction to the results assessed.
Mariyawanda Nzuwah, head of the elections directorate, said he expected at least a 60 percent voter turnout, the highest level of voting since the first post-independence elections of 1980. Only 29 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 1995 parliamentary elections.
Both the ruling party of President Robert Mugabe and the country's main opposition group predicted they would win control of the parliament when results begin to be announced later today.
"The overwhelming voter turnout that we've experienced in this country can only mean one thing -- change," said Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Mugabe refused to comment on the election at a news conference following a mini-summit with Zimbabwe's military allies in the Congo civil war. But his ruling party has insisted it will continue to dominate the legislature.
Late Sunday night, squads of riot police armed with rifles began blocking roads leading to Harare's main police barracks, next to Mugabe's house. Police would not comment on their actions.
With Zimbabwe's economy in shambles and the government riddled with corruption, the newly formed MDC poses the most serious challenge to Mugabe's ruling party since it led the country to independence from white-minority rule 20 years ago.
"These elections are about real freedom, real freedom from corrupt, inept, arrogant, egoistic leadership that has been running this country," Tsvangirai said.
Tsvangirai claimed that if his party does not win a majority of the elected seats, then the vote will have been rigged.
Even a strong victory, however, may not guarantee the MDC control of the 150-member parliament. Since 30 members are appointed by Mugabe, Tsvangirai's party would need to win at least 76 of the 120 contested seats to have a majority. Tsvangirai predicted it would.
A win that large would be a near revolution in a country where the ruling party controlled all but three of the seats in the previous parliament.