Nelson Chamisa, and President Emmerson Mnangagwa were the main contenders in Monday’s election, the first since long-ruling Robert Mugabe was removed in a bloodless coup in November
Zimbabwe's rival presidential candidates both claimed Tuesday they were heading for election victory, setting up a tense count in the country's first vote since the ouster of longtime ruler Robert Mugabe.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said his ruling ZANU-PF party was receiving "extremely positive" data, while opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said the MDC party was "winning resoundingly.”
The claims pointed to a contested result in the historic election, raising the prospect of competing fraud allegations and a possible run-off vote in September - required if no candidate wins at least 50% of ballots in the first round.
ZANU-PF has held an iron grip on power in Zimbabwe since independence from British colonial rule in 1980, and victory for the opposition would be a major upset.
Analysts have said it was unclear whether the country's military generals, who ousted Mugabe and ushered Mnangagwa to office last year, would accept a win by the Movement for Democratic Change.
Defeat for the ruling party would likely lead "to a denunciation of the election by the Mnangagwa administration and the potential for the military to intervene to secure power for ZANU-PF," the London-based BMI risk consultancy said.
Anxious wait for results
"I am scared - is there going to be unrest?" Stone Sibanda, a 39-year-old taxi driver in Harare, told AFP. "It is a very sensitive moment. Everyone is anxious.
Estimated turnout was around 75% before polls closed on Monday evening after a peaceful day of voting.
Early results from the elections - presidential, parliamentary and local - are expected Wednesday, and full results are due by Saturday.
At one polling station in the capital Harare, officials counted large piles of ballots using gas lanterns and candles late into the night on Monday.
If required, Zimbabwe's 5.6 million registered voters would be asked to return to the polls to vote in a presidential run-off on September 8.
But Mnangagwa, 75, Mugabe's former right-hand man, was confident of an outright first-round win.
"The information from our reps on the ground is extremely positive! Waiting patiently for official results as per the constitution," Mnangagwa said on Twitter.
Chamisa, 40, who raised allegations of voter fraud repeatedly during the campaign, was equally buoyant, saying that his MDC was ready to form the next government.
"Winning resoundingly... We've done exceedingly well," he said on Twitter.
Zimbabwe's much-criticized election authority declared Tuesday that the vote had been free of rigging - even though the count was not yet completed.
"We are absolutely confident there was no rigging... we at the Zimbabwean Election Commission will not steal (the people's) choice of leaders, we will not subvert their will," said ZEC chair Priscilla Chigumba.
Mugabe, 94, whose authoritarian 37-year regime held power through violent, fraud-riddled elections, voted in Harare alongside his wife Grace after a surprise press conference at his home on Sunday at which he called for voters to reject ZANU-PF.