Zimbabwe election: High turnout prompts vote extension
People have been forming long queues at one polling station in Harare, as Nomsa Maseko reports.
Voting in Zimbabwe’s presidential and parliamentary elections has been extended for five hours after long queues formed at polling stations.
The fiercely contested poll is said to be orderly and peaceful so far, despite being hit by fraud allegations.
President Robert Mugabe, 89, has said he will step down after 33 years in power if he and his Zanu-PF party lose.
PM Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC accuses Zanu-PF of doctoring the electoral roll, which it denies.
Campaigning for the presidential and parliamentary poll was mostly peaceful.
Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have shared an uneasy coalition government since 2009 under a deal brokered to end the deadly violence that erupted after a disputed presidential poll the previous year.
‘Determined to vote’
Mr Mugabe dismissed the MDC’s allegations of vote-rigging as “politicking” as he voted in the capital Harare’s Highfield township, AFP news agency reports.
At the scene
Brian Hungwe, Harare
People are queuing with enthusiasm and determination.
Most of the voters have been speaking of the hope that the outcome will make a huge difference in their lives.
The polling officers told me some voters had been turned away for various reasons, such as because their names are missing from the voters’ roll in their ward.
The majority of these are newly registered voters – and party agents are having to intervene to get electoral officials to check with the electoral commission’s national command centre to see if the names are on the constituency register.
If the name is verified, they can go ahead and vote, but it is a long, tedious process which voters are finding frustrating.
Thabo Kunene, Bulawayo
Hundreds braved the cold and the wind to stand in queues, which started forming as early as 04:30. A security guard said he saw some people sleeping opposite one polling station.
Women with babies strapped to their backs were being given special preference by other voters and allowed to go to the front. Women selling tea and coffee nearby made good business as those in the queues bought hot drinks to ward off the cold.
At one polling station in Makhokhoba, voting was progressing in an impressively ordered manner. People from different parties were chatting to each other and laughing but they avoided discussing who would win.
“They want to find a way out,” Mr Mugabe said.
“I am sure people will vote freely and fairly, there is no pressure being exerted on anyone.”
Mr Tsvangirai described casting his ballot as an emotional moment “after all the conflict, the stalemate, the suspicion, the hostility”.
“This is a very historic moment for us,” he is quoted by AFP as saying.
Mr Tsvangirai won the most votes in the first round of the 2008 poll, but pulled out of the run-off with Mr Mugabe because of attacks on his supporters, which left about 200 dead.
The government has barred Western observers from monitoring Wednesday’s elections, but the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), as well as local organisations, have been accredited.
Polls opened at 07:00 local time (05:00 GMT) and had been due to close at 19:00, but the apparent high turnout persuaded election officials to extend voting until midnight for people who were still queuing by 19:00.
Results are due within five days.
Wednesday has been declared a national holiday to ensure people can vote. Despite this, voters queued for several hours outside polling stations before they opened, reports the BBC’s Nomsa Maseko in Harare.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the main domestic monitoring agency, said the vote appeared to be taking place without too many problems, Reuters news agency reports.
“There are some concerns around long queues, but generally, it’s smooth,” said its spokesman Thabani Nyoni.
Former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, who heads a group of African Union monitors, said the elections seemed credible.
“It’s been quiet, it’s been orderly. The first place I called in this morning, they opened prompt at seven o’clock and there haven’t been any serious incidents that… would not reflect the will of the people.” he told Reuters news agency.
Zimbabweans are voting in fiercely contested presidential and parliamentary elections. These voters queued up in the capital, Harare, before polls opened. It is winter in Zimbabwe, so the mornings are chilly.
“I got up at four but still couldn’t get the first position in the line,” Clifford Chasakara, a voter in the western province of Manicaland, told Reuters.
“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.”
Zimbabwe election: Key facts
- About 6.4 million registered voters
- Voting takes place between 05:00 GMT and 17:00 GMT
- Vote for president and parliament
- Zanu-PF’s Robert Mugabe and MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai are the main presidential contenders
- Mr Mugabe, 89, is seeking to extend his 33-year rule
- Mr Tsvangirai, 61, hopes to become president after three failed attempts
- The poll ends the fractious coalition between Zanu-PF and MDC, which was brokered by regional mediators after disputed elections in 2008 that were marred by violence
- First election under new constitution
Sixty-one-year-old Mr Tsvangirai has vowed to push Mr Mugabe into retirement; it is his third attempt to unseat him.
On Tuesday, the MDC accused Zanu-PF of doctoring the roll of registered voters, which was released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) only on the eve of the polls after weeks of delay.
The MDC claimed the roll dated back to 1985 and was full of anomalies.
A BBC correspondent has seen the document and says it features the names of thousands of dead people. He says many names with the same address appear two or three times.
A Zanu-PF spokesman denied the allegations and pointed out that appointees from both parties were on Zec. He also accused Finance Minister Tendai Biti, from the MDC, of not funding the commission properly. Zec has not commented.
In addition to Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai, there are three other candidates standing for the presidency – Welshman Ncube, leader of the breakaway MDC-Mutambara; Dumiso Dabengwa of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu), and Kisinoti Munodei Mukwazhe, who represents the small Zimbabwe Development Party (ZDP).
To be declared a winner, a presidential candidate must win more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate reaches this mark, a run-off will be held on 11 September.
The elections will be the first to be held under the new constitution approved in a referendum in March this year.
LETTER FROM POYEHO PARTNER IN ZIMBABWE
We thank you for the prayers for our country.
The environment has largely been peaceful and with a day to go, there
hasn’t been any circumstance that may warrant CNN coverage of
violence. There is a general feeling by the people to move forward and
start building. We have seen of late the Western governments warming
up to Mugabe’s party, ZANU PF with strong indications that they are
likely to form the next government.
Between the two candidates, Mugabe is a better option in terms of
values and advancing our programs that we have on the ground. However,
we are not perturbed should the outcome turn out to be otherwise, we
believe the will of God will prevail under any circumstance and His
kingdom will come.
I will let you know the safest and most efficient way of sending money
from that end. We do have bank accounts but what I am still to find
out is if the sanctions in place allows you from that end to send
money to this end.
My family is well and the newly-weds are doing fine, settling down to
the new life.