Zimbabwe election: queuing voters given more time

Mark Lowen reports on the day's voting, which featured long queues of determined voters

Zimbabwean election officials have been allowing people to vote after the official end of polling, as a high turnout led to long queues.

Most polling stations are now closed but a few have stayed open for late voters in the fiercely contested presidential and parliamentary poll.

President Robert Mugabe, 89, has said he will step down after 33 years in power if he and his Zanu-PF party lose.

PM Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC says Zanu-PF doctored the electoral roll.

It said the rolls contained the names of two million dead people, and there were concerns about the number of people being turned away from polling stations. Zanu-PF denies the claims.

Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have shared an uneasy coalition government since 2009 under a deal brokered to end the deadly violence that erupted after a disputed presidential poll the previous year.

'Historic moment'

Mr Mugabe dismissed the MDC's allegations of vote-rigging as "politicking" as he voted in the capital Harare's Highfield township.

At the scene

Brian Hungwe, Harare

People are queuing with enthusiasm and determination.

Most of the voters have been speaking of the hope that the outcome will make a huge difference in their lives.

The polling officers told me some voters had been turned away for various reasons, such as because their names are missing from the voters' roll in their ward.

The majority of these are newly registered voters - and party agents are having to intervene to get electoral officials to check with the electoral commission's national command centre to see if the names are on the constituency register.

If the name is verified, they can go ahead and vote, but it is a long, tedious process which voters are finding frustrating.

Thabo Kunene, Bulawayo

Hundreds braved the cold and the wind to stand in queues, which started forming as early as 04:30. A security guard said he saw some people sleeping opposite one polling station.

Women with babies strapped to their backs were being given special preference by other voters and allowed to go to the front. Women selling tea and coffee nearby made good business as those in the queues bought hot drinks to ward off the cold.

At one polling station in Makhokhoba, voting was progressing in an impressively ordered manner. People from different parties were chatting to each other and laughing but they avoided discussing who would win.

"They want to find a way out," Mr Mugabe said.

"I am sure people will vote freely and fairly, there is no pressure being exerted on anyone."

Mr Tsvangirai described casting his ballot as an emotional moment "after all the conflict, the stalemate, the suspicion, the hostility".

"This is a very historic moment for us," he said.

Mr Tsvangirai won the most votes in the first round of the 2008 poll, but pulled out of the run-off with Mr Mugabe because of attacks on his supporters, which left about 200 dead.

The government barred Western observers from monitoring Wednesday's elections, but the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), as well as local organisations, have been accredited.

Polls opened at 07:00 local time (05:00 GMT) and had been due to close at 19:00.

However, because of the high turnout election officials said people who were still waiting in queues to vote by 19:00 would have until midnight to cast their ballots.

Results are due within five days.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the main domestic monitoring agency, said the vote appeared to be taking place without too many problems, Reuters news agency reports.

"There are some concerns around long queues, but generally, it's smooth," said its spokesman Thabani Nyoni.

Former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo, who heads a group of African Union monitors, said the elections seemed credible.

"It's been quiet, it's been orderly. The first place I called in this morning, they opened prompt at seven o'clock and there haven't been any serious incidents that... would not reflect the will of the people." he told Reuters.

A policeman stands as Zimbabweans line up near a polling station in Harare to vote in a general election on 31 July 2013 Zimbabweans are voting in fiercely contested presidential and parliamentary elections. These voters queued up in the capital, Harare, before polls opened. It is winter in Zimbabwe, so the mornings are chilly.
An 80-year-old Zimbabwean casts her vote in a polling station in a pass cart in Harare on 31 July 2013 Before polls opened there were already allegations of fraud over the voters' roll which was only published on the eve of the elections. The document features the names of thousands of dead people. Some names also appear twice or three times with variations to their ID numbers or home address.
MDC supporters in Zimbabwe at a campaign rally Zanu-PF's Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change's Morgan Tsvangirai are the main contenders in the presidential poll. Mr Tsvangirai's supporters are hoping it will be third time lucky for him.
Robert Mugabe casts his vote in Highfields outside Harare Mr Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 33 years, has said he will step down if defeated. His wife Grace (middle) has played a prominent part in his campaign. Campaigning was mostly peaceful, with few reports of intimidation.
Morgan Tsvangirai votes with his wife Elizabeth Macheka in Harare Mr Tsvangirai, casting his ballot in Harare with his wife Elizabeth Macheka, described the poll as a historic moment.
In Mashonaland West, 65-year-old Monica Chivera standing in her burnt house But there have been reports of some violence, especially in Mashonaland West, a Zanu-PF stronghold. The house of 65-year-old Monica Chivera, from Hurungwe, was set ablaze on Friday in an incident suspected to be politically motivated arson. ''We were force-marched to a Zanu-PF meeting but I did not do a slogan denouncing Tsvangirai. I escaped with my five children but I lost virtually everything,'' the widow said.
Chipo Matemo and her husband Daniel Bhobho, a Zanu-PF supporter, in their hut which was set ablaze in Mashonaland West In the same region on the same day a young family's thatched hut was also set ablaze by an unknown arsonist. ''I lost everything,'' said 18-year-old expectant mother Chipo Matemo whose husband Daniel Bhobho is a Zanu-PF activist. Police said the incident was being investigated.
A Zanu-PF poster with indigenise spelt incorrectly Some had hoped for the election to be held later in the year so there would be more time to prepare but the Constitutional Court ruled it must be held by 31 July. Zanu-PF has been campaigning on a platform of indigenisation and economic empowerment. At its campaign launch in Harare, a spelling mistake was noticed on the main banner. After an hour a sticker was put over the word "indegenise".
Supporters of Zimbabwe's prime minister climb up a tree during an election rally in Harare on 29 July 2013 The turnout is expected to be high among the 6.4 million people registered to vote, with tens of thousands of people attending rallies in recent weeks.
Zimbabweans line up near a polling station in Harare to vote in a general election on 31 July 2013 To be declared the victor, a presidential candidate must win more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate reaches this mark, a run-off will be held on 11 September.
'Forced voting'

Big queues have been reported across the country, but there have been numerous complaints that voters were unable to find their names on the electoral roll.

Zimbabwe election: Key facts

Zimbabweans wait to cast their votes in presidential and parliamentary elections in Harare, Wednesday 31 July 2013
  • About 6.4 million registered voters
  • Voting takes place between 05:00 GMT and 17:00 GMT
  • Vote for president and parliament
  • Zanu-PF's Robert Mugabe and MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai are the main presidential contenders
  • Mr Mugabe, 89, is seeking to extend his 33-year rule
  • Mr Tsvangirai, 61, hopes to become president after two failed attempts
  • The poll ends the fractious coalition between Zanu-PF and MDC, which was brokered by regional mediators after disputed elections in 2008 that were marred by violence
  • First election under new constitution

According to villagers, MDC polling agents and local election observers, some irregularities were recorded in parts of rural Masvingo district.

Traditional leaders and village heads are alleged to have lined up residents, forcibly marched them to the polling stations and given them voting numbers as if to cross-check who they had voted for.

There are also suggestions that in these rural areas some literate people were forced to pretend they could not read or write and were assisted to cast their vote in favour of Zanu-PF.

On Tuesday, the MDC accused Zanu-PF of doctoring the roll of registered voters, which was released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) only on the eve of the polls after weeks of delay.

The MDC claimed the roll dated back to 1985 and was full of anomalies.

A BBC correspondent has seen the document and says it features the names of thousands of dead people.

MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti said there were as many as two million such names, while some genuine voters were not finding their names on the rolls.

"The greatest worry which we have is the number of persons that are being turned away," he added.

A Zanu-PF spokesman denied the allegations and pointed out that appointees from both parties were on Zec. He also accused Mr Biti, who is Finance Minister, of not funding the commission properly. Zec has not commented.

In addition to Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai, there are three other candidates standing for the presidency - Welshman Ncube, leader of the breakaway MDC-Mutambara; Dumiso Dabengwa of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu), and Kisinoti Munodei Mukwazhe, who represents the small Zimbabwe Development Party (ZDP).

To be declared a winner, a presidential candidate must win more than 50% of the vote. If no candidate reaches this mark, a run-off will be held on 11 September.

The elections will be the first to be held under the new constitution approved in a referendum in March this year.

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