HARARE — Zimbabweans voted in large numbers today in a fiercely contested election pitting veteran President Robert Mugabe against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who has vowed to push Africa’s oldest leader into retirement after 33 years in power.
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.
Both sides are forecasting landslide wins but in a country with a history of election violence the big question is whether the loser will accept the result of a poll dogged by logistical problems and reports of intimidation and irregularities.
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 opened on time at 0500 GMT, 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.
“I got up at 4 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.” (Reuters)