Opposition Claims Zimbabwe Elections Were Manipulated

Zimbabweans voted Wednesday for their next president. Longtime President Robert Mugabe is facing opposition leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe, who has ruled since independence in 1980, says he'll step down if defeated. However in the 2008 election, his near loss resulted in widespread violence.

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The people of Zimbabwe cast ballots today for their next president. It's a two-horse race. Longtime president Robert Mugabe is once again being challenged by opposition leader and prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Violence and fear that followed an election five years ago have eased, but the opposition is again making claims that the election has been manipulated.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: It's a bitterly cold early winter's morning here in Mbare, a suburb of Zimbabwe's capital where hundreds of voters, wrapped up warmly, are patiently waiting to cast their ballots. The long lines snake back hundreds of yards, and the mood is rather calm. It's almost festive.

Despite comparatively peaceful and orderly voting, Zimbabwe's opposition is complaining about what it says is a flawed voters' register that risks manipulating the election results.

Outgoing finance minister Tendai Biti is a leading member of Prime Minister Tsvangirai's opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The voters' roll was made public less than 24 hours before polls opened. At a news conference, Biti said that up to two million potential voters were excluded from the lists, and others, especially opposition supporters, turned away from polling stations today.

TENDAI BITI: Despite all these challenges, despite all these shenanigans, history will not be stolen, the people's victory will not be stolen, and that this election today will deliver change and real transformation.

QUIST-ARCTON: Regional and local observers will be delivering their official verdict on Zimbabwe's election later, as Western observer teams were not invited. But an early informal assessment by the head of the African Union delegation, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, was generally positive.

OLUSEGUN OBASANJO: It's been quiet. It's been orderly. The first place I called in this morning, there hadn't been any serious incident for the result not to reflect the will of the people.

QUIST-ARCTON: Zimbabwe's election commission, which has been sharply criticized by the opposition, extended voting hours to allow all those in line to cast their ballots. The commission has said it will deliver the results within the next five days, according to the constitution. Eighty-nine-year-old President Mugabe is hoping to extend his 33 years in office with a seventh term, and he was upbeat as he voted earlier in the day.

PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE: I'm sure people will vote freely and fairly. There is no pressure being exerted on anyone. You know, so far, so good.

QUIST-ARCTON: Morgan Tsvangirai, who is contesting the presidential vote for the third time, also spoke to journalists after casting his ballot.

PRIME MINISTER MORGAN TSVANGIRAI: Well, it's quite an emotional moment sometimes when you see all these people after all the conflict, the stalemates, the suspicion, the hostility. I think there is a sense of calmness that finally Zimbabwe will be able to move on again.

QUIST-ARCTON: Voters with their fingertips stained bright pink had similar messages for their political leaders, regardless of who wins. Petty trader Loveness Tizora.

LOVENESS TIZORA: I'm waiting for peace, and I just need a stable government.

QUIST-ARCTON: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Harare.

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