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ZIMBABWE: A low-key presidential poll

HARARE, 27 June 2008 (IRIN) - Voting started at a slow pace on Friday in the capital, Harare, as Zimbabweans cast their ballots in a presidential run-off election boycotted by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Polling stations in affluent suburbs were deserted in the early hours of the day.

At one polling station in upmarket Belvedere, a clutch of voters had cast their ballots by mid-morning while police details milled around the station and polling officials basked in the sun. All shops in the capital's central business district were closed.

At another polling station in a school, officials outnumbered the few people who trickled in; one voter took less than three minutes to cast his vote ahead of three others waiting their turn.

This contrasted sharply with the fairly long queues at polling stations in Harare's working-class suburbs, where a few diplomats arrived, assessed the process and left.

Residents in Mbare, one of the capital's oldest suburbs, formed queues that were much shorter than those during the elections on 29 March, in which the opposition upset the ruling party by gaining a parliamentary majority for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.

The residents, who live in crowded municipal flats, took advantage of ten polling stations within a square kilometre to cast their votes. Most of the buildings in Mbare were festooned with ZANU-PF banners sporting the face of the party leader, Robert Mugabe. The suburb was the scene of much political violence against opposition supporters in the run-up to the presidential poll on 27 June.

According to the MDC, more than 86 of its supporters have been killed in violence led by the previous ruling party's militia since the first round of voting in March.

Lack of enthusiasm

"The voting has been peaceful and since morning we have not witnessed any incidence of violence," said a Zambian observer from the country's Election Commission Forum (ECF) attached to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Observer Mission, at a polling station in a working class suburb.

"There seems to be none of the excitement you would associate with a presidential poll," said the observer, who declined to be identified.

The little red finger

Further down the street, in the same suburb, a group of young men sat on a pile of bricks. "We sell them [the bricks] at Zim$1 trillion a thousand," they chorused.

Asked whether they had voted and why they had "opened shop" when others had closed theirs, one of them said: "Our candidate is not participating, so there is no need to vote." A nearby polling station looked deserted.

The group said they did not expect to be harassed for not having a red indelible ink mark on their little fingers - voters are marked by officials to indicate that the individual has voted.

Silas Chambwa, 29, of Highfield suburb, where Mugabe was expected to cast his vote shortly after midday, said he had voted early in the morning. Showing the red mark on his little finger, he said he had fulfilled his obligation. "I have the red mark and nobody will harass me. I am glad no one knows how I marked the ballot," he told IRIN.

Many voters, fearing a backlash from ZANU-PF youth militia, were expected to go to polling stations but to spoil their ballots in protest over the late withdrawal of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai from the presidential race.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told IRIN: "This is no election at all. There is nothing to comment about the event."

Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said state radio reports from all areas indicated voters were going to the polls in a peaceful manner. "So everyone wanting to vote can do so. I have moved around Harare and everything is calm."


Theme(s): (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights



Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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