|28. June 2008
Low participation in elections despite violent threats
President Robert Mugabe faces humiliation as hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans defied intimidation and refused to vote in his unopposed re-election. Despite threats from Mr Mugabe's thugs to beat those who refused to vote, many polling stations in the capital Harare had not seen a single ballot cast three hours after opening. Others remained virtually empty and many of those who did vote simply spoiled their ballot papers. Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, announced he was pulling out of the election last weekend in protest at weeks of violence against his supporters. But the regime said the poll would go ahead anyway. Mr Mugabe's militiamen warned they would launch "Operation Red Finger", targeting anyone whose left little finger is not stained with the ink used to indicate who has voted. But observers estimated that turnout was between a quarter and a third of the level seen in the first round on March 29. One man in Harare's suburb of Belvedere spoiled his ballot in protest against the regime. Holding up his coloured finger, he said: "It's just to be safe. I have got to vote, they have been saying 'We will spill your blood if you don't'." But he marked two crosses on his ballot paper, beside both Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai: "You have to put two crosses, if you leave it blank they will fill it in themselves," he said. Others did not even bother going to the polling booths. A waiter with a red fingertip admitted: "I did it myself, with a ball-point pen. It's better to be safe."
Throughout the day, state television insisted that a huge turnout was taking place, attributing the absence of queues to a hitherto unknown efficiency among election officials. However, ZBC's Freedom Moyo, its reporter in Bulawayo, defied the station's remit by telling the nation: "There are very few people. People have listened to Tsvangirai's call to boycott the election." He was not heard from again. Mr Mugabe yesterday entered a polling booth in Harare to declare, as the only candidate standing, that he was "very optimistic" about the result. In rural areas, where monitors are few, reports emerged of coerced voting, with some all-night indoctrination sessions taking place outside polling stations. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network said its members had seen gross malpractice, voter intimidation and a low turnout, while military sources admitted that election officers were security personnel in plain clothes. On Harare's western outskirts, militia from Mr Mugabe's Zanu PF party rounded up hundreds of people and forced them to the polling stations. "They have taken them now and anyway they are vulnerable so they will vote," said an employer in the area.
In Mr Mugabe's home province of Mashonaland West, one source said: "All our workers, all the resettled people are going to vote for Mugabe, because if they don't they will be in extreme trouble. Our workers are taken night after night for re-education camps, so we are expecting all of them to vote for him today. Most of them didn't vote for him last time. If there was ever freedom, Mugabe would not get five per cent of the votes even right next to his rural home."
In a parallel development, a MDC candidate has defeated President Robert Mugabe's information minister in one of three parliamentary by-elections held on the same day as the country's presidential run-off, an opposition spokesman said on Saturday. "Our candidate, Samuel Sndla Khumalo, has won the Mpopoma-Pelandaba constituency by-election, defeating Zanu PF's Sikhanyiso Ndlovu by 3,795 votes to 1,354 votes," Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Nelson Chamisa said. The by-election was one of three held at the same time as the run-off vote in which Mugabe was the only candidate.