Da Mail & Guardian del 31/03/2005
Originale su http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=200565&area=/zim_el...

Zim voters queue to cast ballots

Harare, Zimbabwe - Zimbabweans waited in long lines on Thursday to cast ballots in parliamentary elections that President Robert Mugabe hopes will prove once and for all the legitimacy of a regime critics say is increasingly isolated and repressive.

Before any ballots were cast, opposition leaders and independent rights groups said the vote was already skewed by years of violence and intimation.

Despite a light rain, residents in the capital, Harare, started gathering at the polls up to three hours before they opened. There were some delays as electoral officials completed last-minute preparations under the watchful eye of police.

Mugabe accuses British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Western leaders of backing the six-year-old Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the first party to challenge his rule seriously. He dubbed Thursday's vote the "anti-Blair election", and MDC supporters "traitors".

"My vote today will be a vote for Zimbabwe's sovereignty," said Thomas Mseruka, a 46-year-old carpenter and ardent government supporter. "I'll be voting to defend our country."

"I wanted to be the first in the queue, to be served early," said Beauty Chigutiare. "We need change. We want jobs, we want good houses."

The opposition counters that British Prime Minister Tony Blair isn't running in Thursday's poll, which it says is about Mugabe's own failings after nearly 25 years in power.

Zimbabwe's economy has shrunk by 50% over the past five years. Unemployment is at least 70%. Agriculture -- the economic base of Zimbabwe -- has collapsed and at least 70% of the population lives in poverty.

Opposition leaders blame the country's economic woes on the government's often-violent seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans.

Mugabe defends the programme as a way of righting racial imbalances in land ownership inherited from British colonial rule, and blames food shortages on years of crippling drought.

At stake on Thursday are 120 elected parliamentary seats. Mugabe appoints another 30 seats, virtually guaranteeing his Zanu-PF party a majority.

About 5,8-million of Zimbabwe's nearly 12-million people are registered to vote. But up to 3,4-million Zimbabweans who live overseas -- many of whom are believed to be opposition supporters -- have been barred from casting ballots.

The opposition MDC won 57 seats in the last parliamentary election in 2000, despite what Western observers called widespread violence, intimidation and vote rigging. But it has lost six seats in subsequent by-elections.

In 2002, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai narrowly lost an equally flawed presidential poll.

While there has been much less violence during this campaign, opposition leaders and rights groups said intimidation remained high. Residents in drought-stricken rural areas were told they could forfeit desperately needed food aid if they voted for the opposition, they said.

A series of repressive laws introduced since 2000 drastically curtailed the opposition's ability to meet, express its views and access the media. While restrictions eased in recent weeks to allow campaigning by all sides, rights groups said the damage was already done.

Mugabe's government hand-picked election observers, barring groups that were critical of previous polls.

Rights groups have also raised concerns about the voters' roll.

Based on an audit of 10% of the list, the FreeZim group concluded it contains up to one million dead people, more than 300 000 duplicate names and one million people who no longer reside at their registered addresses.


MUGABE HAS 'ALREADY WON'

Meanwhile, Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) president Willie Madisha told supporters during a Wednesday-night vigil at the Beit Bridge border post that Mugabe had already won his country's elections

In an address to protesters demonstrating in solidarity with Zimbabwean workers Cosatu believes are suffering rights violations, Madisha said the elections will not be free and fair, reported South African Broadcasting Corporation radio news.

"The fact that he [Mugabe] has been able to redemarcate the elections districts in a way that favours him and his party, [is a problem] for example.

"The areas where he does not have support, like in the urban areas, have been cut in a way that they have been said to attach to the rural areas. That's one thing," said Madisha.

"Secondly, there has been harassment, there has been intimidation, there have been arrests of people. That is yet another problem," he said.

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