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Mugabe seeks another term

Updated: 2013-08-01 07:51
By Agencies in Harare ( China Daily)

Mugabe seeks another term

Zimbabweans line up near a polling station in Harare to vote in a general election on Wednesday. Zimbabweans began voting in a fiercely contested election pitting President Robert Mugabe against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who has vowed to push Africa's oldest leader into retirement after 33 years in power. Jekesai Njikizana / Agence France-Presse


Leader promises 'no cheating' and vows he will step down if he loses

Wrapped in blankets, Zimbabweans braved chilly weather on Wednesday and turned up in droves to vote in a fiercely contested presidential election.

Voters started lining up outside polling stations in the darkness of winter, hours before voting opened. As day broke, queues had already snaked across the capital Harare.

Many of the early birds were young Zimbabweans in their late teens and early 20s who have known no other leader but President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled for 33 years.

But the elderly, and even those who had difficulties walking were arriving to vote.

Visibly in pain, 76-year-old Lucy Munemo held onto walking frames and slowly walked up to cast her ballot at Chitungwiza, south of Harare, - as the grassy field on which polling booths were located defeated the traction of her wheelchair.

"I wish for a good government and a president who respects his people whether they are women or youths," she said.

"We don't want our land to go back to the whites. We don't want foreign interference," she said.

At a crowded Mbare township polling station, one 80-year-old woman was brought in on a cart.

Young voters were also out in numbers.

First-time voter Gamuchirai, dressed in red track suit pants and a pink sports jacket, pulled out her left hand from her pockets to proudly show off her index finger that had been dipped in purple ink for the ballot.

"A good Zimbabwe, that's all we want, where there is electricity, jobs and water. I hope it will come," said the 20-year-old college student.

The 89-year-old president, Africa's oldest leader, is running for office for the seventh and perhaps final time.

"I am sure people will vote freely and fairly, there is no pressure being exerted on anyone," he said as he cast his vote in a Harare suburb. "So far so good."

The veteran leader, a hero of Africa's liberation movement for his fight against white minority rule, had vowed on Tuesday that he would step down if he loses.

"If you lose you must surrender," he said, insisting: "We have done no cheating."

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai - his perennial rival and reluctant partner in an uneasy coalition for the past four years - has voiced concerns that the electoral roll has been rigged.

The 61-year-old former union leader, who was forced out of the election race in 2008 after 200 of his supporters were killed, told CNN he took Mugabe's promise to step down "with a pinch of salt".

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki voiced doubts about the way the election would be run.

"We do remain concerned about the lack of transparency in electoral preparations, by continued partisan behavior, by state security institutions, and by the technical and logistical issues."

Still, Tsvangirai cut a confident figure as he cast his own ballot, predicting his Movement for Democratic Change would win "quite resoundingly".

"This is a very historic moment for all of us," he said. It is the time to "complete the change".

Turnout appeared to be brisk in the urban areas where Tsvangirai has enjoyed his strongest support, and which he must retain to stand any chance of victory.

There are 6.4 million voters in the nation, which is slightly larger than Germany or the US state of Montana. Zimbabwe has 12.9 million people.

A presidential candidate requires 50 percent plus one vote for an outright win. In the event that no candidate gets that, a runoff will be held on Sept 11 between the top two contestants.

Mugabe has focused his campaign on bashing homosexuals and on promises to widen the redistribution of wealth to poor black Zimbabweans.

Amid recovery from an economic crisis that saw mass unemployment and galloping inflation, Mugabe loyalists insist their hero is "tried and tested".

Tsvangirai hopes his plans to lure back foreign investors, create a million jobs in five years and improve public services will deliver a long-awaited victory.

Credible opinion polls are rare, but according to one survey by the US-based Williams firm in March-April, Mugabe could be in for a rough ride.

In a survey of 800 Zimbabweans, 61 percent said they had a favorable view of the MDC compared with 27 percent for Mugabe's ZANU-PF.

The poll showed Tsvangirai leading in seven of 10 provinces and that only 34 percent of those who voted for Mugabe in 2008 back him this time around.

Voting is scheduled to close at 7 pm local time but may be extended to a second day Thursday, according to election officials. The electoral commission has promised to release final tallies by Aug 5.