By Juliet Njeri
President Mugabe has been accused of planning to rig the poll
As Zimbabweans prepare to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections on 29 March, bloggers inside and outside the country have joined the political fray.
The poll will see President Robert Mugabe face a challenge from three contenders.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, former finance minister and Mugabe ally Simba Makoni, and a lesser known fourth independent candidate, Langton Towungana.
BBC Monitoring was unable to locate any pro-Mugabe bloggers or internet forums.
This is Zimbabwe run by the Sokwanele Civic Action Support Group, has been posting regular updates.
One of them, titled "Let the world pray for Zimbabwe", sounded a sombre note:
"Sadness is the overwhelming emotion. Sadness at what could have been. So many have fallen victim to the mad dictator," the post said.
"The excitement that followed Simba Makoni's entry into the race has passed; now all everyone wants is for the next 10 days to be over."
But the post was not completely despondent.
"The depth of sadness all around us is tinged with hope, just a slight showing [of] its colour. No one wants to hope too much, for to have hope is to open yourself to disappointment.
"Everyone knows Mugabe is going to rig the results, but can he cope with a massive turnout of voters?"
The posting ended with the question: "Will ordinary Zimbabweans accept another rigged result?"
Another post on "This is Zimbabwe", from contributor "Hope", was titled "Lies, empty promises, and kids with guns". It voiced fears that the poll would be rigged.
"All election talk in Zimbabwe revolves around rigging: a certainty that Mugabe has rigged and is doing his best to rig the elections; what tricks has he up his sleeve this time; what has he said to SADC [Southern African Development Community] to persuade them to look past the fraud; can we hope the police and army and teachers etc. in the polling stations will blow the whistle and reveal the truth?"
Hope wondered how anyone could believe that the poll would be free and fair.
"It has been rigged, is always rigged, is in the process of being rigged and is going to be rigged again."
Via Zimbabwe Today, Moses Moyo worried that voters would be disenfranchised.
In the blog, Moyo is described as an independent Zimbabwe-born journalist based in Harare, writing under an alias.
"Many ordinary Zimbabweans, anxious to play their part in what remains of democracy in this country, won't get the chance," Moyo said in an entry titled "No time to vote!"
Moyo noted that there were fewer polling stations in areas where the opposition has more supporters, compared to rural areas where President Mugabe is said to enjoy wider support.
"The prospect of a fair and true election in Zimbabwe seems further away than ever," Moyo said.
The Sokwanele group has posted a map on their blog, which it says displays incidences of election breaches.
The blog says the map represents "a small sample of the breaches identified under the project since we started monitoring the government's non-cooperation with regional standards in July 2007. All the information logged under Zimbabwe Election Watch is derived from media sources."
In a post titled "Eating sovereignty and voting for puppies" on "This is Zimbabwe", contributor Hope wrote about "the same old boring Zanu-PF rhetoric".
"The problem with blaming all the problems in the country on a big fat Western conspiracy is that it strips Zanu-PF of campaign options and promises.
"Unless they can come up with real solutions for the economy, they are finished. The problem with promising us the mines or ownership of other businesses (or whatever it is they have robbed from Peter to give to Paul today) is we have the experience of the land behind us now," said Hope, adding: "There is nothing left to dangle before our noses.
Bev Clark, via Kubatana.net, posted an entry titled "If you want a farm, vote Zanu-PF".
"What we need in Zimbabwe right now are more defections in Zanu-PF, a viable plan of action for what we'll do when the election is stolen (again), and citizens with courage.
"The thing is, even if the Tsvangirai MDC does win the 29 March election, Zanu-PF will still be around. I don't see them just up and disappearing come April."
She quoted a reader to the blog, who noted: "For many years the MDC has been unable to convert their stolen elections. Why would they suddenly be able to do so in 2008? A failing economy and an ailing dictator don't necessarily place victory in one's lap."
Morgan Tsvangirai intends to unseat President Robert Mugabe
This reader added: "If Makoni can somehow encourage the neutralization of Mugabe and create a 'new Zanu-PF' committed to justice and Zimbabwe's social, economic and environmental recovery then this should be seen as progress."
James Hall, via Kubatana.net, wrote about the pay hikes awarded by the government during the campaign period. He warned Zimbabweans to be cautious.
"By all means, take the increment, you have after worked for it and deserve it. Understand though that this is not the largesse of a political party, it is what is due to you as long-suffering civil servants of an inefficient government," he said.
"Take the money, then vote him out!"
Amanda Atwood, via Kubatana.net, wondered why Zimbabweans did not demand better leadership.
"Why aren't we more demanding?" she wrote. "Why aren't Zimbabweans more insistent that they deserve good leaders. Why do we settle for so much less than the ideal?
On the 3rdliberation.org blog, an anonymous blogger wrote about voters in rural areas.
"One can actually turn around and say these people in the rural areas are partly to blame for the downfall of the economy," the blogger wrote, adding that "they keep voting for a regime that only wants and supports them for their votes."
The writer offered advice to rural-dwellers: "The masses in the rural areas need to distance themselves from the false sense of security that is presented to them by the party."
In another post, the anonymous writer declared: "Anyone with half a brain knows change has got to come to Zimbabwe and it has got to come quick, not in the form of a quick fix but in the form of long-lasting stability."
Independent candidate and former Zanu-PF official Simba Makoni, has been the subject of blog comments.
A contributor on Kubatana.net commented on Mr Makoni's appearance on a South African TV show.
Natasha Msonza said many people were convinced that Mr Makoni "was just a stalking horse for Mugabe".
"His complacency really smacks of a boot licker with so much Zanu-PF blood running thick in him," she wrote.
"Here are some of the questions that kept burning in my head after the show - why does this guy sound so apologetic? Why is he so prepared to grant amnesty to President Mugabe? And for crying in a bucket, what does he mean when he says he doesn't stand against Mugabe but rather, stands for something else? What is the difference anyway?"
Simba Makoni is standing as an independent
But another contributor to the same blog disagreed.
James Hall said Simba Makoni is "the most suitable commonsense manager for this country".
"It is time to drop the emotional rationale and revert to the logical rationale" he said.
"What the country needs is a good manager with the right credentials to attract the right investors, to manage the right negotiations for the right deals that are in the best interests of the country.
"It is time for commonsense to prevail and for Zimbabwe to reclaim a respectable place in the league of nations," he added.
Contributing to Kubatana.net, Marko Phiri brought up election violence.
"There must be beatings, torture, and political rape as Zanu-PF activists violently 'prove' their loyalty to the party whose leader has in the past declared he was prepared to beat the daylights out of anyone who dared challenge him."
He noted that this time, however, people were defiant in their support of the opposition, despite threats of violence.
"Some young - and not so young - opposition activists are literally daring the devil by loudly and proudly wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the image of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai," said the writer.
"It is a statement that they have had enough and are apparently ready to take the punches from any bellicose political thug."
He wrote about a man who was jailed for allegedly defacing a poster of President Mugabe, saying the authorities were applying double standards.
"Reports about opposition MDC posters being pulled down across the country by Zanu-PF activists remain unpunished, and one has to wonder rather aloud if such behaviour is not likely to incite violence," said the writer.
"But then this is Zimbabwe where the rule of law exists in different forms for different folks!" he concluded.
Held to ransom
On Kubatana.net, Dewa Mavhinga criticized a statement from the army and police chiefs which said they would not allow the opposition to win the elections.
The entry was titled "Rantings of little men allergic to democracy and good governance".
"Zimbabweans will not be held to ransom by a bunch of men who should know that it is highly unprofessional for the army, police and prisons to delve in political matters or to attempt to influence the vote by spreading fear, alarm and despondency," said Mavhinga.
He criticized the government, Zimbabwe's neighbours and the international community for not condemning the statements.
"It is shameful and unacceptable that SADC and international community should remain silent in the face of these treasonous statements," the blogger said, adding: "How can elections in Zimbabwe be possibly be credible, free and fair when the electorate is threatened with war should they vote out Mugabe?"
"Enough is enough, we cannot accept mortgaging Zimbabwe's future to a few cronies who selfishly cling to the past and are keen to destroy Zimbabwe for selfish personal interests," Mavhinga said.
CM, writing in Zimbabwe Review, said an election win by either Mr Tsvangirai or Mr Makoni would only be the first step to a "post-Mugabe Zimbabwe".
"Zimbabwe is in for miserable times if Mugabe continues as president. There is absolutely no reason to believe that he has any new formula to reverse the decline he has presided over," said CM.
"Yet a win for Morgan Tsvangirai, or long-shot candidate Simba Makoni, or a coalition between them, will not suddenly usher in some golden age of enlightenment and prosperity. It will just be another phase in the gradual progression of Zimbabwe's politics."
He urged Zimbabweans to be "more realistic about the work and time frame of post-Mugabe recovery".
"Mugabe's reign is ending (whether you define this electorally or in terms of the 84 year old man's life expectancy) with so much misery and hardship that either of his two main opponents' win would be welcomed with overwhelming relief," he wrote, adding that "the widespread desire that Mugabe goes does not mean his replacement guarantees the democratic, peaceful, prosperous Zimbabwe we had hoped to have had by now."
The blogger wondered whether the MDC's "vision of rulership is what Zimbabwe needs".
"I am uncomfortable with what I believe to be the MDC's old-style client-patron relationship with the West. I fear going from the one extreme of Mugabe's self-serving, demonizing and blaming of the West for all his failures, to another extreme of a Tsvangirai presidency in which Zimbabwe is slavishly beholden to and controlled by that West," said CM.
CM questioned Simba Makoni's links with Zanu-PF.
"I hope for Mugabe's defeat, but would not initially be jumping up and down with any great excitement under a Tsvangirai or Makoni presidency. Even if this is the election that deservedly dispatches Mugabe into retirement, it would just be the first of many steps of building a new Zimbabwe."
BBC Monitoringselects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.