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Long queues at Zim polling stations

31 July 2013, 14:20

Harare - Voting was under way across Zimbabwe on Wednesday in the country's first general elections since violent polls in 2008 forced the main political parties into an uneasy power-sharing deal.

Polling stations opened on time at 07:00 and were set to close at 19:00.

Long, peaceful queues formed outside polling stations, as people waited for more than two hours in some areas to cast their vote.

Observers from African monitoring missions and foreign embassies said there were no problems, but noted that the queues were significantly longer than those seen at a constitutional referendum earlier this year.

"Voting is my right, our fathers fought for it. I want it to usher in a government that creates jobs and makes the economy tick," said Lizzy Sibanda, a 37-year-old teacher.

Most adults are without work or under employed.

Five candidates are competing in the presidential race, with President Robert Mugabe, 89, from the Zanu-PF party and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, 61, from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) the front-runners.

Zanu-PF supporters were out in droves, but there were no overt signs of intimidation.

Hours before polls opened, Mugabe on Tuesday denied allegations that his Zanu-PF party had rigged voter rolls and vowed to step down if he lost.

"When there are only two outcomes - win or lose - you can't be both. If you lose, you must surrender to those who have won. I will comply with the rules," he said at a press conference in Harare.

Watershed election

In the township of Mbare, one of the poorest urban areas, children played football while the adults lined up to vote. Election officials said people had gathered before polling stations opened to ensure they were able to cast their vote.

"I want to make sure my vote counts," said Charles, a taxi driver. "I really hope it stays peaceful this time, because 2008 was so, so bad."

There are more than 9 600 polling stations across the nation, with some 6.4 million people registered to vote in presidential, parliamentary and local elections.

If neither presidential candidate wins 50% of votes, a run-off will be held in September.

This is the third attempt by former trade unionist Tsvangirai to unseat Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

Analysts and politicians have described this as a "watershed" election for the top candidates, whose careers hang in the balance.

In the 2008 election, Tsvangirai won the first round but did not get enough votes to avoid a run-off. Widespread intimidation, including the deaths of some 200 of his supporters, forced him to pull out of the run-off.

This election is expected to produce an outright winner and end the shaky unity government.

The MDC has said the election was not taking place in a "free and fair" environment.

The first results for local and parliamentary elections may come within hours of polls closing. The presidential tally could take up to five days to announce, according to the Election Commission.



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