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Sunday, 25 June, 2000, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Eyewitness: Change in the air
Voters queue at a polling station
Change in Zimbabwe is "no longer unthinkable"
By the BBC's John Simpson in Harare

This is an election in a country which until very recently thought all elections were bound to result in victory for the ruling party.

And so the feeling has only started to spread in the last week or so that there was a real point in turning out to vote - and that by doing so people could show their feelings in an effective and worthwhile way.

There will be large areas where this feeling has not penetrated. Zanu-PF, which has governed Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, will probably win easily.

But even some leading party members admit that it will be a serious blow to their prestige if they get less than, say, 70% of the vote.

The BBC's John Simpson
The BBC's John Simpson

And on the basis of what I have seen, travelling around, that must now be a serious possibility.

A week ago few people even in Harare itself, which is notoriously the main centre for pro-opposition feeling, would dare to say they were planning to vote for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

If you spoke to them in the street, in the shops, waiting in line for a bus, the most they would say was that there needed to be change.

Red card

But when I went to a small town just outside Harare called Tafara, a place where intimidation by Zanu-PF supporters has been notorious, I was surprised to find sizeable groups of young men who shouted out MDC slogans, raised their open palms in the MDC sign, and waved red cards in the air like football referees.

The red card is the MDC's way of saying that President Mugabe should go.

And so for a brief moment this quiet, orderly country seems to be facing up to the realisation that change is no longer unthinkable.

Uncertainty

Hence the extraordinarily large turn-out. Hence, too, the complete uncertainty about the result, since the voting is genuinely secret and, apart from some scattered incidents, seems to be going off without widespread intimidation.

It will also be hard to do too much to tamper with the outcome.

There is now a strong expectation here and abroad that the opposition will do well, so if the result shows an overwhelming victory for Zanu-PF, as government officials have been predicting, that will be widely seen as a fix.

It is not just an opposition slogan to say that change is in the air in Zimbabwe.

Whatever the result, the opposition and its newly confident supporters will see it as the beginning of the end of the Mugabe era.

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See also:

20 Jun 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe bars election monitors
20 Jun 00 | Africa
Zimbabweans feel 'let down'
16 Jun 00 | Africa
Opposition boost in Zimbabwe
17 Jun 00 | Africa
Turnout blow for Mugabe
18 Jun 00 | Africa
Harare rally boosts opposition
17 Jun 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
The politics of fear
16 Jun 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe parties: Who's who?
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