AFP, HARARE - Counting was under way in Zimbabwe on Saturday with President Robert Mugabe certain of victory after a one-man election marked by intimidation of voters and branded a sham by the opposition and the West.
Electoral commission officials said the first results from the 210 constituencies were expected to be declared in the afternoon and the final outcome was likely to be announced by Sunday at the latest.
"Most of the counting has been completed," a senior commission official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP.
"The first results should be between 1:30 and 3:00 pm (1130 and 1300 GMT) and we should have completed things by tomorrow at the latest."
But as 84-year-old Mugabe awaited confirmation of victory, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said the vote was a farce and he was only being kept in power by force and with help from South African President Thabo Mbeki.
The MDC, whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted Friday's poll after a wave of deadly attacks against his supporters, suffered a major blow overnight when South Africa blocked a move at the UN to declare the election illegitimate.
The United States and its European allies had pushed for a resolution that would have stated the results "could have no credibility or legitimacy" but South Africa argued the Security Council was not in the business of certifying elections.
The council instead merely issued an oral statement expressing "deep regret" that the election went ahead after widespread calls for it to be shelved.
"Yesterday's event was not an election, it's still something to be defined in the dictionary of mankind. It's an unbelievable sham, such a farce," said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa.
"What we would expect from the international community is to declare this so-called election illegitimate.
"For anyone to try and rescue this regime is a travesty of justice. It's in complicity of the theft of democracy ... Mbeki is letting down the masses of the people of Zimbabwe by acting as a shield for a rogue regime."
Mbeki is the region's official mediator between the ruling party and opposition in Zimbabwe but his refusal to publicly criticise his counterpart Mugabe has caused exasperation in the MDC's ranks.
Tsvangirai won the first round of the election on March 29, falling just short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a run-off.
But he decided to pull out of the run-off last weekend after the MDC claimed nearly 90 of its supporters had been killed in attacks by pro-Mugabe thugs and some 200,000 voters disenfranchised after being driven from their homes.
Amid widespread reports that the electorate was being coerced into voting for Mugabe, Tsvangirai advised followers on Friday against futile gestures of defiance in what he derided as an "exercise in mass intimidation".
"If you must vote for Mr Mugabe because of threats to your life, then do so," he said. "If forced to cast your ballot for Mr Mugabe to avoid personal harm, then again I say do so."
In some areas of the country, there were allegations officials were inspecting ballot papers before they were placed in boxes.
Turnout was "massive" in the election, the official newspaper The Herald reported Saturday, but provided no figures.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there had been widespread reports of intimidation. Those who failed to cast their ballots could be easily identified as each voter had a finger daubed with red ink.
"I don't think there was any doubt that yesterday was a sham," Rice said on a trip to South Korea, adding her envoy Jendayi Frazer would attend an African Union summit in Egypt on Monday in a bid to build up pressure on Mugabe.
Gordon Brown, prime minister of the former colonial power Britain, described the election as "a new low" and said the international community was coming together against Mugabe's "illegitimate" rule.
Viewed in the first years after independence in 1980 as a post-colonial success story, Zimbabwe has seen its economy collapse since thousands of white-owned farms were expropriated by the state at the turn of the decade.
The one-time regional breadbasket now experiences shortages of even the most basic foods while inflation -- officially put at 165,000 percent but in reality many times higher still -- is the highest in the world.
Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader, has ruled uninterrupted since independence