Zimbabweans have been casting their votes in presidential elections, with both sides confident of victory. However, there are some fears that the poll might be weighted in favor of controversial President Robert Mugabe.
Voter turnout on Wednesday was reported to be high and - with no reliable official polling figures - both sides were predicting landmark wins for themselves.
As he voted in a middle class suburb of the capital Harare, opposition challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, who is contesting the presidency for the third time, said he expected his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party would claim victory "quite resoundingly."
"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," said the 61-year-old Tsvangirai. "This is a very historic moment for all of us," he said, adding it was time to "complete the change."
Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader at the age of 89, also cast his vote in the capital, claiming that he looked forward to a new term of office.
"It's an opportunity for the nation to demonstrate their own wishes as to what must be done and that, of course, means choosing the party they think can fulfill their wishes. In other words, give them a better life," he said. "I've got lots of things to do - repair our industries, which have collapsed; there's much work to be done in the mining sector."
Fears of renewed violence
With both sides so optimistic, there are fears of violence if the poll proves inconclusive or if the result is disputed. Elections in 2008 were marred by violence and complaints of widespread intimidation.
However, Mugabe - who denies opposition allegations of vote rigging - said on Tuesday that would be prepared to step down after 33 years in office, if defeated. "If you lose you must surrender," he said, insisting: "We have done no cheating."
Amid allegations that the electoral list had been doctored to ensure victory for Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, there were reports on Wednesday of people being turned away from polling stations because their names did not appear.
Poll observers from the African Union said at lunchtime that the elections had passed off peacefully so far. Zimbabwe has not invited Western observers because of sanctions that were imposed on Mugabe, who has been accused of repeated human rights abuses.
US State Department spokeswoman Janet Psaki said on Wednesday that there were doubts about the way the election was being run. "We do remain concerned about the lack of transparency in electoral preparations, by continued partisan behaviour, by state security institutions, and by the technical and logistical issues," she said.
Some 6.4 million people, or half the population, are registered to vote with results expected to be announced within a five-day deadline.
rc/hc (AP, AFP, Reuters)