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Counting Begins In Zimbabwe's Close-Fought Election

posted 31 Jul 2013, 14:07 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 31 Jul 2013, 14:07 ]

Vote counting begins in Zimbabwe's close-fought election that will decide that whether PresidentRobert MugabeAfrica's oldest ruler, will extend his 33 years in power or make way for a younger leadership.

HARAREZIMBABWE (JULY 31, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Vote counting began in Zimbabwe's close-fought election on Wednesday (July 31) but final results could only be out in the next five days.

Zimbabweans voted in large numbers on Wednesday (July 31) in a fiercely contested election pitting veteran President Robert Mugabe against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who has vowed to push Africa's oldest leader into retirement after 33 years in power.

With no reliable opinion polls and amid allegations of vote-rigging, it is hard to say whether Tsvangirai will succeed in his third attempt to oust 89-year-old Mugabe, who has run the southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980.

Both sides are forecasting landslide wins. In a country with a history of election violence the big question is whether the loser will accept the result of a poll dogged by logistical problems and reports of intimidation and irregularities.

Mugabe, who rejects past and present charges from critics of vote-fixing and intimidation by hisZANU-PF party supporters, has said he will concede if defeated.

The Election Commission said nationwide turnout was high, but with no breakdown between urban and rural areas it is impossible to say whether this will benefit Mugabe or his 61-year-old challenger.

Around 6.4 million people, or half the population, are registered to vote. Results are expected well within a five-day deadline intended to prevent a repeat of problems seen in the last election in 2008, when big delays led to serious violence.

The threat of unrest remains at the back of people's minds but the atmosphere has been markedly lighter than five years ago, with both party leaders preaching peace and tolerance.

Western observers have been barred from the elections, leaving the task of independent oversight to 500 regional and 7,000 domestic monitors.

Their verdict is crucial to the future of Zimbabwe's economy, which is still struggling with the aftermath of a decade-long slump and hyperinflation that ended in 2009 when the worthlessZimbabwe dollar was scrapped.

The United States, which has sanctions in place against Mugabe, has questioned the credibility of the poll, pointing to a lack of transparency in its organisation and pro-Mugabe bias in the state media and partisan security forces.

However, if the vote receives broad approval, there is a chance Western sanctions may be eased, allowing Harare to normalise relations with the IMF and World Bank and access the huge investment needed to rebuild its dilapidated economy.

It would also spark a rush to exploit Zimbabwe's rich reserves of minerals such as chrome, coal, platinum and gold.

Tsvangirai urged African monitors not to give the vote the thumbs-up simply because they do not witness bloodshed.