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votes in third Mugabe-Tsvangirai showdown
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on the Daily Maverick website
With no reliable
opinion polls and amid allegations of vote-rigging, it is hard
to say whether Tsvangirai will succeed in his third attempt to oust
89-year-old Mugabe, who has run the southern African nation since
independence from Britain in 1980.
In an initial assessment
of the poll, Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian president heading
an African Union observer team, said he thought the process had
been "peaceful, orderly and free and fair".
is that this will be what the report will be from all polling stations
throughout the country," he told reporters.
Both sides are forecasting
landslide wins. In a country with a history of election violence
the big question is whether the loser will accept the result of
a poll whose run-up was dogged by logistical problems and reports
Mugabe, who rejects past
and present charges from critics of vote-fixing and intimidation
by his Zanu-PF party supporters, has said he will concede if defeated.
"I'm sure people
will vote freely and fairly," he told reporters after casting
his ballot in a school in Harare's Highfields township. "There's
no pressure being exerted on anyone."
Polls closed at 1700
GMT, after a day that started with long queues of people braving
unseasonably cold weather to stand in line from well before dawn.
At one polling
station in the eastern province of Manicaland, a key swing region,
the queue of voters, many wrapped up in blankets, stretched for
a kilometre (half a mile).
"I got up at 4:00
but still couldn't get the first position in the line," said
sawmill worker Clifford Chasakara. "My fingers are numb but
I'm sure I can mark the ballot all the same. I'm determined to vote
and have my vote counted."
The Election Commission
said nationwide turnout was high, but with no breakdown between
urban and rural areas it is impossible to say whether this will
benefit Mugabe or his 61-year-old challenger.
In Harare, the epicentre
of support for Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) party, the mood was upbeat.
here to vote and I'm convinced Harare will lead the way to change,"
John Phiri, a house cleaner in his 30s, said in a polling station
in the upmarket Mount Pleasant suburb.
vote at a Harare high school, Tsvangirai said he expected to win
Around 6.4 million people,
or half the population, are registered to vote. Results are expected
well within a five-day deadline intended to prevent a repeat of
problems seen in the last election in 2008, when big delays led
to serious violence.
The threat of unrest
remains at the back of people's minds but the atmosphere has been
markedly lighter than five years ago, with both party leaders preaching
peace and tolerance.
The pair met at State
House late on Tuesday in the presence of Obasanjo, who described
the encounter - unusual on an election eve - as a "briefing".
Asked at a news
conference on Tuesday whether he and Zanu-PF would accept defeat,
Mugabe was unequivocal: "You either win or lose. If you lose,
you must surrender."
were in marked contrast to the acrimony of what he described as
an "energy-sapping" campaign, and may help to ease fears
about a repeat of the turmoil
that broke out in 2008 after he lost the first round of voting.
Around 200 Tsvangirai
supporters were killed then before South Africa brokered a power-sharing
deal that stopped the bloodshed and stabilised the economy, establishing
a unity government criticised as fractious and dysfunctional.
Western observers have
been barred from the elections, leaving the task of independent
oversight to 500 regional and 7,000 domestic monitors.
Their verdict is crucial
to the future of Zimbabwe's economy, which is still struggling with
the aftermath of a decade-long slump and hyperinflation that ended
in 2009 when the worthless Zimbabwe dollar was scrapped.
The United States, which
has sanctions in place against Mugabe, has questioned the credibility
of the poll, pointing to a lack of transparency in its organisation
and pro-Mugabe bias in the state media and partisan security forces.
However, if the vote
receives broad approval, there is a chance Western sanctions may
be eased, allowing Harare to normalise relations with the IMF and
World Bank and access the huge investment needed to rebuild its
It would also spark a
rush to exploit Zimbabwe's rich reserves of minerals such as chrome,
coal, platinum and gold.
Tsvangirai urged African
monitors not to give the vote the thumbs-up simply because they
do not witness bloodshed.
"Mugabe is the world's
oldest leader and one of its longest-ruling dictators. He is fixing
this election in a more sophisticated fashion than previous Zanu-PF
campaigns of beatings, killings and intimidation," he wrote
in an editorial in the Washington Post.
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