Harare - Zimbabweans began casting ballots on Wednesday in a
fiercely contested election dominated by Robert Mugabe's bid to extend his
33-year rule and overshadowed by suspicions of vote rigging.
The 89-year-old president, Africa's oldest leader, is
running for election for the seventh and perhaps final time, after a series of
violent crackdowns, economic crises and suspect elections.
This time Mugabe vowed to step down if he lost and claimed
the army - long the bulwark of his rule - would also respect any victory for
Morgan Tsvangirai, his perennial rival.
But few are taking him at his word.
Even Tsvangirai, who was forced out of the race in 2008
after 200 of his supporters were killed, told CNN he took Mugabe's promise "with
a pinch of salt".
Determined to cast their ballots, voters, some wrapped in
blankets on a cold winter morning, started queuing up at least four hours
before polling stations opened.
Voting appeared to be brisk in many urban areas, which have
traditionally recorded strong support for Tsvangirai.
At polling stations set up in green tents on an open field
in Mbare, the capital's oldest township, several hundreds were standing in
At Epworth, a Harare township, 66-year-old Ellen Zhakata
held back her tears after voting.
"I am happy to have cast my vote. I just want an end to
the problems in our country," she said. "All my children are outside
the country because of the economic troubles here. I am so lonely. How I wish
they could be working here."
Millions of Zimbabwean were forced to migrate to find work
elsewhere after an economic crisis which was exacerbated by the violence-marred
Some 6.4 million people, around half of the population of
12.9 million Zimbabweans, are eligible to vote at 9,670 polling stations across
A candidate needs 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off and
both Mugabe and Tsvangirai appear confident they can manage that feat.
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".
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
In a survey of 800 Zimbabweans, 61% said they had a
favourable view of the MDC compared with 27% for Mugabe's ZANU-PF.
The poll showed Tsvangirai leading in seven of 10 provinces
and that only 34% of those who voted for Mugabe in 2008 back him for president
this time around.
Tsvangirai hopes his plans to lure back foreign investors,
create a million jobs in five years and improve public services will deliver a
Polling stations will close at 19:00. Final results are
expected with five days.
The elections will also chose lawmakers and local government
In June, the Research and Advocacy Unit - an NGO - reported
the existing roll included one million dead voters or people who have
emigrated, as well as over 100 000 people aged over 100 years old.
For all Zimbabwe election stories please visit our Zimbabwe
Special Report Page.