Zimbabwe: Big Turnout in Zimbabwe Presidential Election

Harare — Voters turned out in force for Zimbabwe's presidential election on Wednesday with current President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai the favourites. Lines snaked around the block in the capital, Harare, and first-time voters have shown more interest than in 2008.

Tsvangirai called his vote a "highly emotional" moment. When he came out with his wife Elizabeth at Harare's Mount Pleasant High School.

Tsvangirai ran for against Mugabe in 2008 amidst widespread violence throughout the campaign and afterwards. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader pulled out of the runoff elections in order to avoid further bloodshed and became part of an uneasy coalition government with Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

It is a "very historical moment for all of us as Zimbabweans to complete the delayed runoff from 2008 means to see the same contenders, finally resolving this political crisis", Tsvangirai said after emerging from the polling station.

All the presidential candidates have called on Zimbabweans to be peaceful during the election and at polling stations around Harare, many have joined the line, some with their children in tow as Wednesday's vote was declared a national holiday.

One voter, Eddie, told RFI he had gone to the polling station at 5.30am in order to make sure he was one of the first in line when polling stations opened at 7.00am.

"The youth were a little bit rowdy, they wanted to overtake everyone in the queue, so we moved to another polling station," he said. There the process was peaceful and went smoothly.

"I was glad they were assisting the old-age pensioners to go vote," Eddie said, although he adds that some people complained that there were a lot of elderly people, who were put at the top of the queue. He finally voted at 8.30am.

"What was happening is that in the past, what was causing disputes in the Zimbabwe election was the issue of naked violence," said Pedzei Ruhanya, the director of the Zimbabwe Electoral Institute. "So the system decided to use not open violence, but covert [violence], things to do with manipulation of the electoral administration to make sure they would be able to steal this election via the voter's roll."

There have been reports of people being turned away because their registration number was different from the one on their voter card. Others were not listed on the voters' roll.

"At Belgravia Sports Club in Harare, where the officers who have a particular pink substance, which looks like the ink that is being used and they wanted to vote," said Nixon Nyikadzino, who works for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition as a local observer.

Nyikadzino said the CZC was looking into the matter. "They claimed it was polish to polish their boots."

Observers are out in force, including former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who heads the African Union Observer Mission. He spoke to voters waiting in line at Marimba polling station in Harare and to election officials, who told him that there had been no problems.

Another observer from the diplomatic corps, who did not want to be identified, told RFI that from checking the name in the register to voting took approximately two and a half to four minutes. While the process was straightforward, he said, the real reason for the long lines was that there were not enough election workers to check everyone in. The first official at the door checked the person's name and identity card with the register before they could enter the polling station, resulting in delays.

Although Mugabe denied at an emergency press conference on Tuesday that Zanu-PF manipulated local chiefs in rural areas, a number of reports indicate otherwise.

"The rural leaders have been moving around for the past three days telling people that they will need to go with them to vote... they have been told of reprisals if they don't vote wisely, or if they don't vote for a particular party, which we all know," said the CZC's Nyikadzino.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition of over 30 non-governmental organisations has reassured would-be voters via SMS that their vote is secret and, although local chiefs try to accompany villagers to vote, they do not have to indicate who they will vote for.

Ruhanya predicts that the voting will not go to a second round.

"This is going to be a very decisive election in the history of this country, similar to the independent election of 1980.The election will be decided today."

Given the number of complaints surrounding the vote, candidates or human rights groups can take their case to court but Ruhanya claimed that there is no point in doing so in Zimbabwe.

"The only person who can gain victory in the courts is Mugabe," he told RFI. "Any other person will not get any recourse. That has been the trend since we started this election.

"That is why people have come in numbers to make sure it will not be a decision of the courts, but a decision of the sovereign will of the people."

Zimbabweans want to avoid the month-long wait for the poll count that occurred in 2008. The Zimbabwean Electoral Commission will announce the outcome by 5 August.

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