JOHANNESBURG — Millions of Zimbabweans are voting in a tense election pitting incumbent President Robert Mugabe against his arch-rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Soon after polls opened, the opposition complained about voting irregularities. It did not take long for Zimbabwe’s opposition to dispute the nation’s hotly contested presidential election.
Barely two hours after polls opened on Wednesday, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accused President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party of a litany of violations - including tampering with the voters roll, intimidating opposition supporters and arresting activists. Rights groups and critics have made similar allegations in the run-up to the vote.
President Mugabe and his wife, Grace, cast their votes at Mhofu Primary School Highfield. The Zanu PF leader says the elections give people the chance to demonstrate how they should be governed.
Mugabe is running for president for the fifth time. At 89 years of age he is the oldest national leader in the world. He has led Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980. Under Zimbabwe’s new constitution, he is limited to two more five-year terms.
Mr. Mugabe told journalists on the eve of elections that he would step aside if he loses.
He is being challenged by Morgan Tsvangirai, who is running for the third time. He became prime minister after mediators pushed the two men into a power-sharing government after violent 2008 elections.
The MDC-T leader and his wife, Elizabeth, cast their ballots at Mt. Pleasant High School.
Perhaps the most pivotal figure in the presidential race is one who is not going to win. Professor Welshman Ncube split from Tsvangirai’s party in 2005, calling his version of the MDC the MDC-N, and has a sizeable following.
The larger MDC has acknowledged that he might prevent one of the two main contenders from winning more than 50 percent of the vote. If that happens, a runoff vote will be held in September, with Ncube as kingmaker.
Mr. Ncube cast his vote in Zimbabwe’s oldest suburb, Makokoba, with his wife.
“It’s in the hands of the people the rest of the day. Let’s step back and allow the people of Zimbabwe to speak and once they have spoken, let’s count their votes properly and lastly let’s count their votes expeditiously and as quickly as possible. Let us also respect the outcome thereafter and whoever emerges victorious let every Zimbabwean accept that and wish them well in forming the next government,” he said after casting his vote.
The other presidential candidate Dumiso Dabengwa also cast his vote in the city.
More than six million Zimbabweans were registered to vote in Wednesday's polls for president, parliament, and other offices.
The election commission has until August 5 to release the results.