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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.
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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.
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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.
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