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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 15:06 GMT
Media caught out by voting extension
Voters queuing in Harare
Voters welcomed the extra day
The speed of events in Zimbabwe on Monday caught the media on both sides of the presidential contest by surprise.

The website of the main pro-government paper, the Herald, was quicker off the mark than its opposition-supporting rivals.

Monday's Herald headed its main report "Mugabe leads in poll", which was clearly written while the wrangle over a further day's voting was still going on.

It provided figures from Sunday showing there had been "a massive turnout in rural areas, which are traditionally a Zanu-PF stronghold". The paper predicted that Mugabe would retain the presidency.

As news came through of an extension to the voting, the Herald added a report to its website outlining the arguments for and against the extra day.

Double voting

Pro-government Zimbabwe Radio reported that the extra day would go ahead, but quoted a warning from Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.


We will take stern measures against anyone who tries to vote twice

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa

"Government is implementing the High Court order under protest", he said, "and we will take stern measures against anyone who tries to vote twice in Harare and Chitungwiza".

The Herald was more specific. It reported fears within Zanu-PF, that "the extra day of polling was going to give rise to double voting as some voters were allegedly using some unknown chemicals to wash off the indelible ink in order to try to vote at a different polling station in the same constituency".

The Herald added that checks would be carried out to stop this possibility.

MDC appeals

The media supporting the opposition MDC were slower to react to the unfolding events. The website Zwnews.com carried an "urgent notice" from the party informing its supporters that they could cast their vote on Monday as well. It said the extension applied to the whole country.


Government is clearly (frustrating) the will of the people

MDC Spokesman David Coltart

The notice appealed to employers to "give time off for those of your employees who were unable to vote on the weekend", and said there was an "urgent need for food, fuel and vehicles for a third day's polling".

But speaking on South African radio on Monday, the MDC spokesman David Coltart said many polling stations had either not opened at all, or only for a few hours. "Government has acted in contempt of this order", he said, "and it's clearly designed to frustrate the will of the people".

Scepticism

The pro-opposition Daily News published a news report with warnings from the MDC of electoral fraud. The paper also carried an editorial in which it said the elections "will not be free and fair because some fly-by-night observers say so".


This election has cost the lives of more than 100 people

Daily News

It listed reasons for its scepticism: arbitrary disenfranchisement of voters, reduction in the number of polling stations, media obstruction.

"Why would a government that has no dark intentions place restrictions on observers and journalists covering the election?" the paper asked.

"Yes, the voting will appear free and fair, but the road to this election has cost the lives of more than 100 people", the paper continued.

The Daily News saw some hope in "the huge turnout" for the poll.

It also looked to the post-election period, appealing to whoever won to tackle the country's economic problems and open Zimbabwe up to the wider world. "'Going it alone' is a myopic option", it concluded.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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