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Zimbabwe polls close after calm day

Latest update : 2008-03-29

Elections ran smoothly in Zimbabwe as voters cast their ballots to determine whether Robert Mugabe would remain president, after petrol bombs exploded outside the home of a ruling party candidate early in the morning. (Story: C. Norris-Trent)

Some 5.9 million Zimbabwean citizens voted on Saturday in a general election (presidential and legislative) which could see President Robert Mugabe turfed out after nearly three decades in power. Opponents have already accused him of trying to extend his rule by rigging the vote.

 

Harare-based economist John Robertson told FRANCE 24 that he could not vote as his name had been taken off the voting register.
  

Zimbabwean bloggers reported a peaceful election day,  with opponents feeling they could safely display their political allegiance for the first time. "People are openly waving the MDC greeting. In the last elections these were no go areas for the opposition and people would not have dared risk their lives for such action," wrote a contributor to the blog This is Zimbabwe.

 

Others, however, pointed to the heavy military presence around the country. "There is a war chopper since Wednesday roving in the skies nearer to the ground in Mutoko, its frightening", read an SMS posted on the Kubatana.net blog, an online community of activists.

 
“Some thing might just happen”

 
According to news agencies, voters queued before dawn to vote on Saturday, some of them even sleeping at polling stations.

 
"I want to vote because things are so bad, and maybe this election will help change that," one man told Reuters. The 35-year-old security guard had walked for more than two hours to reach his polling station in a Harare township.

 

Some Zimbabwean bloggers, however, were not impressed with the length of the queues outside polling stations. "The queue at the ATM in Newlands is longer," wrote Michael Laban on Kubatana.net.

 

Turnout is now expected to be lower than previously thought, especially outside the capital Harare.


With the country in a disastrous economic state, the election may be 84-year-old President Robert Mugabe’s biggest challenge since Britain recognised Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

 
Running against Mugabe are veteran opposition leader and former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and former Finance Minister Simba Makoni, who defected from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF ruling party.

 
Bloggers inside the country described a mood of rare elation, with many saying that, for once, they believed change could be on its way. “There’s a sense of purpose today, a vibe, an anticipation and smell of promise that Some Thing (sic) might just happen,” write the authors of Kubatana.net.

 
The problem with “ghost voters”

 
Both Tsvangirai and Makoni say only vote rigging can prevent them from winning this time. "We believe there is a very well thought-out, sophisticated and premeditated plan to steal this election from us," Makoni said.

 
The opposition believes it has a chance to break through because Mugabe’s economic track record is disastrous.

 

Up to 80% of the population is unemployed. The 2007 inflation rate topped 100,000%. There is chronic shortage of basics, such as food and fuel. Life expectancy has dropped to 37 years for men and 34 for women, in part due to the rampant HIV/AIDS crisis.
 

 

Several petrol bombs exploded outside the house of a ruling party candidate Saturday morning. No one was hurt in the explosion which took place in the city of Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold and the country’s second largest city.

 
According to RFI correspondent Alex Duvall Smith reporting for FRANCE 24, the explosion represents “a very significant development.”

 
“If indeed the opposition has planted a bomb it would be an unprecedented move, especially since they have always called for peace,” she said.


The state-appointed Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on Friday rejected opposition accusations that thousands of non-existent "ghost voters," including dead people, were added to the electoral roll to ensure ZANU-PF victory.

 
"We don't rig elections. I cannot sleep with my conscience clear if I have rigged [the election]," Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe assured as he cast his ballot in the capital Harare.

 

Most international election observers have been banned from Zimbabwe, as have most foreign journalists. A team from the regional SADC grouping, which critics accuse of being too soft on Mugabe, has been allowed to monitor the elections from within the country.

Date created : 2008-03-29

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