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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 16:14 GMT
Zimbabwe votes: Harare
With only two days to go until the elections, there is huge excitement on the streets of Harare.
There are posters of the presidential and mayoral candidates on all the walls and even on the commuter buses.
In the long queues of people waiting for mealie-meal everyone is talking about the election. They have been waiting for their mealie-meal all day long.
Many of them are openly criticising President Mugabe, blaming his government for the shortages.
People are saying that they plan to vote early on Saturday because they are afraid there will be violence later.
Zimbabwe's main opposition presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, today remained vague on whether he would accept defeat at the weekend poll.
"The MDC finds it premature to announce a definitive stand on this issue at this stage," Mr Tsvangirai told reporters in Harare in his final news conference before the elections.
Pressed further on what action he would take should he lose, Mr Tsvangirai only said: "The people know what to do."
But his party has in the past warned of mass uprisings should the ruling party steal the vote, and the Zanu-PF has accused the MDC of planning to cause violence after the elections should they lose.
But Mr Tsvangirai was confident his party would win.
"They will vote for answers to the burning issues of the day. These are starvation and massive food shortages, the collapse of Zimbabwe's economy, joblessness and the ever-increasing prices of food-stuffs and other basic commodities."
But, he added, "the people are winning these elections under extremely difficult conditions".
He said that even if his party does win the elections, "the point will still have to be made that the electoral process has been blatantly and outrageously distorted in favour of the ruling party.
"The ruling party has crafted and implemented every imaginable trick to assist its fortunes in this election," he said.
The Electoral Supervisory Commission today said that some 5.6 million people are registered to take part in the elections over the weekend.
This figure is up from 5.2 million people who were registered in last June's parliamentary elections.
So far, about 4,548 polling stations have been set up. But there have been reports that polling stations in urban areas which are opposition strongholds have been greatly reduced.
In its defence, the government-appointed Electoral Supervisory Commission says it has increased the number of polling stations in the rural areas to shorten the walking distances, following recommendations made by previous election observers.
However, two days before voters go to the polls, the opposition is crying foul. They say President Robert Mugabe has made the playing field uneven by reinstating controversial election laws which had been struck down by the Supreme Court.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the laws will disenfranchise many of its supporters.
Civic groups are attempting a last-minute bid to reverse the decision which opposition lawmaker David Coltart said is an attempt ''to rig the poll''.
President Mugabe - who unofficial election polls suggest could lose the election - restored a ban on postal votes, leaving hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans living abroad without a vote.
The list of complaints against the government, also includes an allegation that the army has taken over the running of the elections.
Army spokesperson Mbonisi Gathseni refused to comment on the issue, referring all questions to the Electoral Supervisory Commission.
But sources say army officials have been deployed in various areas of running the elections.
The commission is headed by retired army colonel Sobusa Gula-Ndebele, who has added to fears over the army's involvement in the elections by appointing Brigadier Douglas Nyikayaramba as chief elections officer.
Reports say that Brigadier Nyikayaramba retired from the army a few weeks ago - but sources close to the commission say he is just on leave of absence, as are many other soldiers working under him.
What makes this weekend's election even more contentious is that the government is only using civil servants as monitors - a substantial number of whom, opposition and human rights groups complain, have come from the security services.
After security chiefs said they will not support anyone who did not take part in the liberation war, fears are running high that soldiers could intervene to keep President Mugabe, who is their commander in chief, in power.
Morgan Tsvangirai took his campaign to the sick this afternoon when he toured Harare Central hospital, the country's largest referral hospital.
The opposition leader was in a jovial mood, joking and wished the patients a speedy recovery.
He also asked for their vote if they are able to go and vote. One female patient said she would. ''Ndakachinja ( I have changed my ways),'' she said in reference to the opposition party's slogan.
Patients told him of the sad state of affairs at the hospital which faces a shortage of everything: food, drugs, nurses and doctors.
Two male doctors said that they were stretched to the limit and that at times they had to use their own pocket-money to feed the patients.
''We have to limit everything here. We don't have food and we don't have medicine. Look at these children. They are emaciated because they have no food. But here we also don't have food and the families cannot provide food because they come from very poor communities. We have a big problem,'' said one doctor, who asked to address Mr Tsvangirai.
One woman who was visiting a sick relative wished the MDC leader well in the elections.
In return, Mr Tsvangirai promised her that if elected president, he would turn around the health sector, which he said was "in the intensive care unit".
Church leaders have called on Zimbabwe's politicians to end the political violence which has rocked the country in the run-up to this week-end presidential election.
They have also urged all those responsible, at whatever level, to ensure the elections are free and fair.
''Let every political participant do to others as you would like them to do to you, because what you sow is what you shall reap,'' the churches said in their message.
''If dialogue, non-confrontation and non-inflammation of issues had been our motto as Zimbabweans, our beloved country, its economy would not have deteriorated like it the case now.''
With four days to go to elections, the churches are calling for irreproachable transparency, integrity and accountability by all election officials in the processing of the voters roll, provision of sufficient polling booths for all, conduct of the voting, ballot box sealing and results announcement.
But the church in Zimbabwe has come under fire for being weak in its condemnation of rising political violence in the country.
Although some individual church leaders have been outspoken against the violence, political analysts say the church's voice has been weak and disjointed.
''At best it has been ambivalent and at worst it has been an endorsement of the Mugabe regime particularly in the case of Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the Anglican and sections of the Catholic Church,'' said analyst Brian Raftopolous.
''We need divine intervention not only in prayer but in public demonstration of condemning the rampant violence. The church's moral position is lacking. It should be strong and be able to mobilise peace marches,'' added Masipula Sithole, a political scientist from the University of Zimbabwe.
Police in Harare have broken up a meeting between opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and diplomats in Harare.
The police declared that the meeting was an illegal gathering under the new and controversial Public Order and Security Act. Mr Tsvangirai was briefing about 30 Harare-based diplomats on his plans if he won the election against President Robert Mugabe this weekend.
But soon after the briefing began, the police called Mr Tsvangirai outside and told him that the meeting was illegal.
The outraged diplomats dispersed.
''We have the right and the duty under the Vienna convention to talk to political forces when we think it's appropriate,'' said angry Spanish ambassador, Javier Sandomingo.
''If police can break up a meeting at a five star hotel with diplomats, imagine what goes on in the rural areas far away.'', said Tendai Biti, MDC's shadow minister for foreign affairs.
According to Learnmore Jongwe, information secretary of the MDC, 83 of their meetings or rallies have been restricted or broken up by the police since January.
Thirty-one MDC activists were arrested this afternoon, accused of vandalism, carrying out unauthorised voter education and holding an illegal meeting.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said that a spray canister had been found in their possession and they had been illegally spraying campaign slogans.
Zimbabwe's main labour body has warned of a mass uprising if the army and police do not carry out their duties impartially.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) also demanded that the government put an end to what it called state-sponsored violence.
With just a week to go before the presidential elections, the labour body said the chances of a free and fair election given deep levels of violence were minimal.
Earlier this year, security chiefs in the country said they would not support a leader who did not take part in country's 1970s liberation war in what was a threat to opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai should he win the elections.
Relations between the government and the labour unions have been frosty for several years.
The MDC was born out of the ZCTU two years ago and both Mr Tsvangirai and MDC Vice-President Gibson Sibanda used to be leading unionists.
ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo spoke to journalists on the 12th day since a senior ZCTU official, Ephraim Tapa was allegedly abducted by war veterans in rural Mutoko.
Mr Tapa, president of the Civil Service Employees Association has not been seen since, despite police reports being made.
''There has been a deliberate selective application of the law by state agencies and officials. In particular, the Zimbabwe Republic Police seem to have abdicated their responsibility to protect all Zimbabweans,'' complained Mr Matombo.
President Robert Mugabe brought his campaign to the sprawling crime-infested Harare township of Epworth yesterday.
But far away from the rally, Ziviso, a maid for a young professional couple had spent the whole day queuing up for the staple mealie-meal she has not tasted in a week.
For Ziviso and many others who were in the queue for mealie-meal at Montague shopping centre, Mr Mugabe's promises of land and jobs ring hollow.
They squarely put the blame on the president and chorused that after 22 years, the 78 year-old leader should have long retired.
''He has failed this country and we are going hungry. We are tired of his promises. He can lie to the rural people but not us. We are tired of him,'' said a burly-looking man who said he had been in the queue since 5am.
''I can't tell my children about land. I have a family to feed but there is no maize. Why did the government lie to us that they would be no shortages.''
With an economy teetering on the brink of collapse and high joblessness, the task of the main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been an easy one and he has been able to get many listeners.
''Aren't you hungry, do you want jobs? Vote for me,'' Mr Tsvangirai has been telling his supporters at his election rallies.
In this industrial city, people want jobs rather than the land promised by President Robert Mugabe and the thousands made redundant generally blame the government.
Mr Mugabe's attempts to blame Zimbabwe's economic decline on sabotage by the West fall on deaf ears.
Shops which were once full of high quality goods, either made locally or imported, are now empty and sales staff have lost their jobs.
Some of those still employed have been reduced to walking up to 20km to their work-places, as they can no longer afford the bus fares.
As living standards have plummeted in recent years, Harare's townships and the dormitory town of Chitungwiza have occasionally erupted into anti-government violence.
This has been crushed by the army, which has been accused of indiscriminately beating up civilians.
The headquarters of the opposition MDC were attacked by a group of Mr Mugabe's supporters earlier this month.
The government has postponed the election of Harare's mayor for over a year, knowing that it is almost certain to lead to a victory for the MDC.
Now, the vote will take place at the same time as the presidential election.
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