To shouts of disbelief at a news conference, Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede, a senior official in Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, said only one constituency had begun the count, more than 20 hours after polls closed.
"The rest of the constituencies are still carrying out verification and have not started counting.....the turnout is just too large, overwhelming ... nearly twice as much as we have experienced," Mudede said.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which is mounting a potent threat to hitherto unchallenged ZANU-PF rule, has accused the government of planning to rig the poll.
Shortly after 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) at a delayed news conference, Mudede said: "I am sorry to inform you that the turnout out of voters has been very large. Normally we start receiving results by 11 or 12 a.m. onwards but today it has not been possible. "
Before he spoke, police chief Augustine Chihuri issued a grave appeal for calm and warned against spreading false rumours.
"For those who do not accept the verdict, law enforcement agencies of the police will ensure that the people are forced to accept the outcome of the status quo.
"It is my appeal that everyone should be level-headed and should be mindful that as a country we need law and order and security of our country and citizens," Chihuri said.
Election officials had said on Sunday after the polls closed that the first results would be ready around midday on Monday.
The delay increased suspense around the country where many Zimbabweans were glued to radios awaiting the result of the most important election in the country's independent history.
The turnout to elect 120 members of parliament looked like being one of the highest since independence, when ZANU-PF won a sweeping majority that it has not relinquished since.
The high turnout came despite what European observers said were intense levels of intimidation by ZANU-PF officials that made it virtually impossible for opposition candidates to campaign.
"The term 'free and fair elections' is not applicable in these elections," said Pierre Schori, head of the EU observers, the biggest group of foreign monitors.
"The level of violence and intimidation in the pre-election phase makes the term not applicable," the former Swedish government minister told a midnight news conference.
ZANU-PF secretary for administration, Didymus Mutasa, a close aide of Mugabe, told Reuters: "That is real garbage.
"They are biased and with this report they have confirmed that the EU's real mission is actually out to help those trying to overthrow President Mugabe and our party."
At least 30 people, mostly supporters of the MDC, have died in violence linked to the elections and invasions of hundreds of white-owned farms by pro-government militants since February.
As counting started, news came in of a new incident.
Five MDC members were severely beaten by suspected ZANU-PF thugs on Saturday night in the Mataga area of central Zimbabwe.
"They were violently assaulted. People are really scared down there," human
rights worker Val Ingham-Thorpe told Reuters after rushing three of the men to a
Harare hospital on Monday. Mudondo Timomenda was burned on the buttocks and
beaten on his feet, while Simbai Murigwa had suffered a large, deep burn on his
shoulder. Alphayo Shoko's face was badly swollen after he was battered on the
head, she said.
The other two MDC members were still missing, Ingham-Thorpe said, adding that there had been 120 violent incidents in the Mataga area in the run-up to the elections.
Schori said that while weekend voting itself was "highly positive", the level of pre-poll violence and a "lack of transparency" by the government-appointed election body meant the process was seriously flawed.
"ZANU-PF leaders seemed to sanction the use of violence and intimidation against political opponents and contributed significantly to the climate of fear so evident during the election campaign," Schori said.
Observers from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) said they had noted scattered incidents of intimidation and problems with voters' lists, but the team judged the poll free and fair.
"In view of all that transpired during the campaign, including the violence and acrimonious debate, the major challenge now facing the Zimbabwean people has to do with creating a national strategy and forging forward with their development in an atmosphere of peace and harmony," the OAU monitoring team said in a statement.
June 26 2000
WORLD NEWSFEATURES Copyright 2000 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Daniel McGrory in Macheke talks to the family of the first farmer killed by the 'war veterans'
Farmer's widow votes for justice
FOR a moment Maria Stephens was tempted to return at the weekend to Arizona farm, where her husband, David, was abducted and murdered barely two months ago.
She had driven back to Virginia to vote and stared longingly at the dirt road leading to her tobacco plantation which the so-called war veterans have triumphantly turned into their headquarters.
A crudely painted sign at the roadside says: "This is a liberated area. Whites not welcome." The 39-year-old widow grits her teeth in frustration and steers her Land-Rover away, saying: "I'm not scared of them, but I have my four kids to think of and I mustn't take risks for their sake. But one day I'll go back."
Many of her neighbours had pleaded with her not to go back to vote in Macheke after her public outbursts accusing President Mugabe of having her husband's blood on his hands.
She is unrepentant, and as she waited in the encouragingly long queue at the polling station in Craigie-Lea primary school Mrs Stephens said: "Look around. There is too much positive feeling here, too many opponents of Mugabe, for the gunmen to have the guts to do anything to me here".
She is a testament to the resolve in Zimbabwe not to be bullied into submission any more. "We owe it to David and the others killed to make damn sure this cannot happen again," she said. "There is no point in me or anyone dwelling on the past. We have to go forward".
Every few minutes a neighbouring farmer would appear along the red dirt track and embrace her, eagerly enquiring about her and the children. "What I hate most about living in exile is having to rely on the charity of others. We lost everything, so friends have been giving us clothes, furniture, the lot."
Ironically, just days before he was killed, David Stephens had applied to emigrate to Australia in frustration that he could not change the way Zimbabweans - white and black - thought and acted.
His widow is fiercely critical of the Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) for not doing more to resolve the crisis, let alone thwart it before it degenerated into the vicious cycle of violence that has destroyed her family. "OK. So hindsight is easy, but David and I thought the CFU incompetent," she said.
"Everyone forgets the first man to die in this campaign was not David but a black policeman doing his job and standing up to the so-called war veterans.
"The CFU should have drawn attention to that, used its money to take care of his family, pledge to educate the officer's children. Instead they were hopeless. They said 'we need more facts about the incident' and 'we can't get involved'. We are involved, for God's sake.
"The CFU, the churches, banks, every business should have gone to Mugabe when the farm invasions started and said, 'Stop now or we burn our tobacco crops, so you lose as well as us'. We didn't stand up for ourselves."
She is articulate and animated, waving her arms to emphasise the point that she was "a political animal" well before the death of her husband. "We would argue with our neighbours at the Country Club because David and I had radically different ideas on how to treat black workers. I was happy being a farmer's wife, but I was never part of that bridge and pink gin set. We just wished the CFU and others had set up real programmes to improve the lot of the black farm workers."
The couple shared their profits with their labourers and refused to renovate their own property until new houses had been built for the staff.
Her only disappointment as she stared along the line of several hundred voters at Craigie-Lea at the weekend was that she could see none of the labourers from her farm.
"I'm afraid for them. Worried they have been bullied into running away or worse," she said. She drove for miles along deserted country tracks, ignoring her own security, calling at various remote polling stations around Virginia, trying to find familar faces, but she found none.
Last night she had returned to her temporary home - lent to her by Swedish diplomats - in one of Harare's smartest suburbs.
"I can handle the change. I'm a town girl from Sweden who thought food came from supermarkets and who never wanted to go near a farm until I met and fell in love with a farmer. But the children feel the difference, leaving Arizona," she said. Wrestling with her three- year-old twins, Sebastian and Warren, she added: "They keep asking where their toys are and why they can't go back to their big back garden. These last few weeks they have stopped asking where daddy is. But they wake every night and want to come in my bed."
Mrs Stephens's two eldest children, Marc, 15, and Brenda, 14, were sitting in the front room. They will leave Zimbabwe in August to finish their education in her home town in Sweden - not to escape political violence, she insists, but for fear of Aids.
There are photographs of their father pinned to a noticeboard, but the two teenagers prefer not to talk about the day in April when he telephoned them and said that a gang of squatters had forced their way on to the farm. The phone call was the last time that Marc heard his father's voice.
Mrs Stephens knows who murdered her husband, but she narrows her brown eyes in rage that the police have never questioned the man, whom the Stephens aided financially.
"The police say they are investigating, but I know where the man lives. He struts around Murewa boasting about it. I just pray that one of the first things a new Government will do is get the police to do their job and start by arresting David's killer."
She is convinced her husband was murdered to stop him from revealing the corruption of fellow councillors on Murewa district council. "He was about to go public with it, and it reaches to the very top," she said.
She still intends to reclaim Arizona. "It's mine, and besides it's our only source of income. It will take two years to repair it, and maybe I will sell it or lease it, but I don't want it staying in the hands of these thugs. I won't let David's killers have it." She had intended to keep a low profile during the election until Mr Mugabe blamed her husband for "starting this war". "I was so incensed I had to speak out. This proves the man is deranged. Zimbabwe must get rid of him," she said.
A senior figure in the oppostion Movement for Democratic Change described her as "the conscience of Zimbabwe". Embarrassed, she said: "That is a beautiful thing to say. But if I had a wish, it was that nobody had heard of me and my David was still alive." She pushed her hair from her face and cried.
June 26 2000 Copyright 2000 Times Newspapers
How Joyous risked dinner to cast his ballot FROM MICHAEL DYNES IN KWEKWE
JOYOUS KARONGA tied his chicken to the fence around the polling station on the outskirts of Kwekwe, 150 miles south of Harare, before casting his vote in Zimbabwe's fourth general election. An over-officious and unsympathetic policeman had told him that he could not take the chicken into the station. Joyous had to choose between running the risk that his chicken might not be there when he returned or not vote at all. But like millions of Zimbabweans he was determined to vote. On emerging from the polling station and relieved to discover that his chicken was still there, he whispered the opposition slogan: "Chinjai - I have voted for change." Despite predictions of a landslide for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Kwekwe is no place to advertise one's opposition to President Mugabe's rule. During the terror that swept the countryside in the past two months, thousands of black farm workers were savagely beaten by marauding bands of self-styled war veterans. The homes of suspected opposition sympathisers were rased. At night, re-education camps were held across the region to bludgeon the electorate into voting for the ruling Zanu (PF). Blessing Chibunda, the MDC candidate for Kwekwe, was forced to flee after his home was pillaged by a suspected Zanu mob. He is standing against Emerson Mnangagwa, the Justice Minister, but has been in hiding since May, fearful that he will join the list of murdered opposition candidates. In Kwekwe's black township of Mbizo, a dozen, so-called war veterans had built their camp-fire near the polling station. Staring menacingly at the long queue of voters, which snaked its way round the breeze block shacks, they contented themselves with drinking the local brew. Their work had already been done. "It's better for me to keep quiet," one man said. "People here are afraid to talk." For hours they queued, sheltering under the lemon trees from the blistering heat, waiting for their turn to vote. The lines moved painfully slowly, but never seemed to diminish. They kept coming in their thousands. Women with babies strapped to their backs, old men hobbling on wooden sticks, and huge numbers of young people, few of whom have jobs and all of whom are voting for the first time. Many hundreds were turned away after being told they could not vote because they were not on the electoral roll, their identity papers were not in order, or because the supplementary electoral roll, detailing late registrations, had failed to arrive. Their details were meticulously recorded on forms headed "Particulars of Persons Denied the Vote" by the dutiful officials.