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Zimbabwe Elections Peaceful, Orderly, But Rigging Alleged

  • Correspondents

Zimbabweans turned out strongly on Saturday to elect a president, a new parliament and local councils in a process observers and participants said was largely peaceful and orderly, though the opposition and observers alleged some ballot rigging.

In the only significant reported incident of violence on election day, police said a gas bomb exploded at the Bulawayo home of a ruling party member of parliament, though no injuries were reported. A civic organization said a supporter of the opposition died in Chivi, Masvingo, on Saturday from injuries sustained Friday when he was attacked by alleged ruling party militants for wearing a T-shirt with an opposition emblem.

Some logistical problems were reported including shortages of ballot forms in Victoria Falls, Matabeleland North, and in Manicaland Province.

Long lines were reported in Harare, the capital, and Bulawayo, the country's second-largest city, early in the day, but queues thinned out later in the day, sources said.

A VOA reporter in Bulawayo who cast her own ballot in the morning said the process was “excruciatingly slow,” having waited for 3 hours and 16 minutes to receive ballot papers in a line of about 100 people. But voters were said to have immediate access polling stations in Norton, Mashonaland West, where authorities set up extra polling stations in tents which the opposition charged were part of a rigging scheme.

Casting his vote in Highfield, Harare, President Robert Mugabe told reporters he will step down if he loses. He dismissed allegations that his ruling ZANU-PF party has rigged the elections, saying his conscience would not let him cheat.

"We don't rig elections," Agence-France Presse quoted Mr. Mugab as saying after he casting his ballot in Harare. "I cannot sleep with my conscience if I have rigged."

Opposition presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai voiced confidence that he would win despite the rigging which he alleged Mr. Mugabe's partisans were carrying out.

Independent Simba Makoni, a former top ZANU-PF official who broke with the party in announcing his candidacy in February, also voiced optimism about his chances and said the voting process appeared to be normal.

Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from the election command center in Harare where national tabulation was to take place.

Correspondent Irwin Chifera reported from Masvingo, capital of Masvingo Province.

From Kadoma, Mashonaland West, correspondent Arthur Chigoriwa, reported that police encumbered polling places and many voters were turned away because they were in the wrong ward or their names did not appear on the voters roll.

From Bulawayo, correspondent Netsai Mlilo said voting was peaceful with few reports of voters being turned away, though voters had to wait up to three hours.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a non-governmental organization which deployed some 11,000 observers nationwide, said the voting process was calm but reported voters being turned away and some notable incidents of intimidation.

Observers deployed by the Southern African Development Community said the process seemed to be peaceful and orderly.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with SADC Secretariat Media Officer Charles Mubita about the day's events.

But an observer with a contingent sent by the African Union's Pan-African Parliament said his mission had discovered more than 8,000 "ghost voters" in the fourth ward of Harare North constituency, a focus of rigging allegations in recent days.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the PAP observer said that although the election had been peaceful, the group's findings in Harare North were disturbing.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Tsvangirai said some of its polling agents were denied access to polling stations by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, though MDC Election Director Dennis Murira told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri that agent names had been submitted to ZEC well in advance.

Election day was marred by the reported death of an opposition member in the town of Chivi in Masvingo Province. The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said the unidentified man died at Chivi Hospital on Saturday after being severely beaten on Friday by suspected ZANU-PF militants for wearing an opposition T-shirt.

Coalition spokesman MacDonald Lewanika said violence was down compared with other elections, but that the civic group had documented several serious incidents.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...