NPR Story
3:26 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Zimbabweans Hope For Fair And Peaceful Presidential Election

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 7:43 pm

Zimbabweans vote for a new president Wednesday, after a violent and disputed election in 2008 and five anxious and turbulent years since.

The much anticipated vote ends a power-sharing deal between veteran leader Robert Mugabe and his main political rival, who is the leading challenger in the presidential race.

Campaigning was enthusiastic and good-natured ahead of the vote, a marked contrast to what rights campaigners said was state-sponsored violence after the first round of voting five years ago. Then, the opposition pulled out of the election, handing victory to President Robert Mugabe.

Today, prospective voters, like Linda Munetsi, a 32-year-old mother of three, say what Zimbabwe needs most is peace and progress after hitting rock bottom, economically and politically. "We need freedom in Zimbabwe ... that's what we want," Munetsi says. "There's peace in Zimbabwe. We need peace; we need to continue in peace, even after the elections."

Seeking re-election for a seventh term is 89-year-old Mugabe. He has held power in Zimbabwe since Rhodesia fought a liberation war and won independence from Britain in 1980. At a news conference on Tuesday, Mugabe told reporters he is prepared to step down if he's defeated.

"There are only two outcomes — win or lose," Mugabe said. "If you lose, you must surrender to those who have won. If you win, those who have lost must also surrender to you. This is it."

But as he crisscrossed the country campaigning, Mugabe predicted outright victory in Wednesday's election. His main political adversary, Morgan Tsvangirai, is singing the same triumphal tune in what is his third presidential contest. He has been Zimbabwe's prime minister in an often-fraught and fragile power-sharing government with Mugabe for the past four years.

"Fellow Zimbabweans, walk with me in this last march to a new Zimbabwe, a new country of hope and prosperity," Tsvangirai told supporters. "Walk with me on this memorable journey to settle a new trajectory for our beloved country. You have an opportunity to elect for the first time a new leadership in this country, a leadership that has the energy and the vision for the future."

Despite a largely peaceful campaign, the opposition has criticized parts of the process; some issues remain unsettled. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change accuses the president's party of doctoring the electoral roll so that it can rig the election. After weeks of delay, the final list of voters was belatedly published by the election commission at the last minute. That's just not right, says the MDC's Jameson Timba.

"You cannot have a voters roll given to you less than 24 hours before an election. The voters roll in itself is in total shambles," Timba says. "We've got a good number of duplicate names ... [and] this goes on and on, across the voters roll and across constituencies and across wards."

Mugabe's party denies any involvement in the delayed release of the voters lists and says that all parties are represented on the electoral commission. Despite these assurances, there's growing concern in some quarters that this anomaly could skew the outcome of the election, with loud talk about possible vote fraud.

Nevertheless, Zimbabweans are eager to cast their ballots and hope that this time around, the vote will be transparent and peaceful and reflect the people's will.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR.

For decades, Robert Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist. But after a violent and disputed election in 2008, he finally landed in a power-sharing deal with his main political rival. Tomorrow marks the end of that deal. Zimbabweans will vote in a presidential election, and Mugabe and his rival are both on the ballot as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Campaigning was enthusiastic and good-natured ahead of tomorrow's presidential vote. This was in marked contrast to what rights campaigners said was state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe after the first round of voting five years ago. Then the opposition pulled out of the election, handing victory to President Robert Mugabe.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Today, prospective voters like 32-year-old mother of three Linda Munetsi says what Zimbabwe needs most is peace and progress after hitting rock bottom economically and politically.

LINDA MUNETSI: We need freedom in Zimbabwe. Yeah, that's what we want. (Unintelligible) there's peace. Yes, there's peace in Zimbabwe. We need peace. We need to continue being in peace even after the elections, yes.

QUIST-ARCTON: Seeking re-election for a seventh term is 89-year-old President Mugabe. He has held power in Zimbabwe since Rhodesia fought a liberation war and won independence from Britain in 1980. At a news conference today, Mugabe told reporters he is prepared to step down if he's defeated.

PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE: There are only two outcomes - win or lose. If you lose, then you must surrender to those who have won. If you win, those who have lost must also surrender to you, and this is it.

QUIST-ARCTON: But as he crisscrossed the country campaigning, Mugabe predicted outright victory tomorrow. His main political adversary Morgan Tsvangirai is singing the same triumphal tune. Tsvangirai is in his third presidential contest. He's been Zimbabwe's prime minister in an often fraught and fragile, power-sharing government with Mugabe for the past four years.

MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: Fellow Zimbabweans, walk with me in this last march to a new Zimbabwe, a new country of hope and prosperity for our beloved country. You have an opportunity to elect for the first time a new leadership in this country, a leadership that has the energy and the vision for the future.

QUIST-ARCTON: Despite a largely peaceful campaign, parts of the process have been criticized by the opposition with some outstanding issues. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change accuses the president's party of doctoring the electoral roll so that it can rig the election. After weeks of delay, the final list of voters was belatedly published by the election commission at the 11th hour. That's just not right, says the MDC's Jameson Timba.

JAMESON TIMBA: You cannot have a voters' roll given to you less than 24 hours before an election. The voters' roll in itself also is in total shambles. You'll find that a person is registered twice, same name, same date of birth, same physical address and a slight change is made to that person's ID number. This goes on and on and across the voters' roll.

QUIST-ARCTON: President Mugabe's party denies any involvement in the delayed release of the voter's list and says that all parties are represented on the electoral commission. Despite these assurances, there's growing concern in some quarters that this anomaly could skew the outcome of tomorrow's election. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Harare.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.