Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has claimed he has never cheated in polls after his rival Morgan Tsvangirai charged the president with rigging today’s elections.
“We our people definitely know we have done no cheating, never never. We are also Christians,” a laughing Mr Mugabe told reporters at his State House residence.
He said he would step down if he lost but predicted an “outright result.”
More than six million Zimbabweans can vote in the polls, which will pit the 89-year-old president against Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Mr Tsvangirai for the third time.
They have been locked in a power-sharing pact since elections in 2008, when more than 200 MDC supporters were killed after Mr Mugabe lost the first round. Mr Tsvangirai believes he won then and in a 2002 election.
Yesterday Mr Mugabe dismissed claims that traditional chiefs were forcing villagers to vote for his Zanu-PF as rights groups and the MDC allege – and claimed his security chiefs, several of whom have vowed not to accept a Tsvangirai victory, were “law-abiding people”.
The former guerrilla leader claimed his chances of winning were just as good as at independence in 1980, when he first won power. “The enthusiasm of the people is just marvellous. The people have realised that all along they have lost their direction and they are now back in a revolutionary direction that we gave them,” he said.
Writing in the privately-owned Newsday, Mr Tsvangirai, 61, said the international community had been “apathetic” to Mr Mugabe’s cheating. “Perhaps Mugabe has been stealing elections for so long the world just rolls its eyes and moves on,” he said. Mr Tsvangirai, who served as prime minister in the coalition, claimed Mr Mugabe had rigged today’s polls in a “more sophisticated fashion” by preventing opposition supporters from registering as voters and by reducing the number of polling stations in MDC strongholds. But he said Zimbabweans could still give him victory at the polls.
Registrar general Tobaiwa Mudede, a Mugabe ally, only released hard copies of a revised voters’ roll yesterday, to the outrage of observers.
Voting begins at 7am and ends 12 hours later. Voters will be choosing a new president, MPs and local councillors. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said it will consider extending voting into a second day in the event of long queues but believes this will be “unlikely.”
Opinion polls have been inconclusive, although the latest from a US firm Williams and Associates of Salem has suggested a 61 per cent vote for Mr Tsvangirai. But analysts say Mr Mugabe enjoys wide support based on his promises of empowerment through white land and company grabs – and a state propaganda machine that blames the shortages and hyperinflation of 2000-08 on sanctions. He has drawn huge and enthusiastic crowds to his rallies.
Mr Tsvangirai has formed a coalition with Simba Makoni, a former finance minister who won 8 per cent in 2008. But he has not brokered an agreement with Welshman Ncube, head of a smaller MDC faction also standing for the presidency. Mr Ncube has campaigned on an anti-corruption ticket and seen his support grow under the coalition.
Yesterday riot police were at the ready as a grim calm settled over Harare. “I’m trying not to think about [the election],” said a restaurateur in the central Avondale district. “I’m numb about it. They’re so desperate. They’ve got to be: they’ve got so much wealth to protect, haven’t they?”
At the flea market, the mood was one of resignation. “Business is so bad,” said Amon, a seller of pirated DVDs. “Maybe things will be better after the election. We shall see.” A second-hand bookseller in his 50s made no secret of his support for Mr Mugabe, pointing to a headline in the state-owned Herald that read “President to win first round.”
“I think it’s true,” he says. “It’s good to know what the outcome will be. It means that you won’t get surprised.”