Zimbabwe has extended voting for a third day to allow more voters to cast their ballots. But the opposition accuses the Mugabe government of intentionally slowing down the election process and rigging the votes.
Long waits at polling booths
Voting has been extended for a third day in Zimbabwe after long lines in front of the polling stations slowed up the election process over the weekend.
The country’s High Court ordered the polls to be opened again on Monday to allow as many citizens as possible to participate in voting, according to an announcement on Zimbabwe's state radio.
However, the voting extension does not apply to the entire country as the court requested. Instead, only those polling stations in the capital Harare and nearby Chitungwiza are opened for a third day.
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said an extension of the voting deadline throughout the country would be impractical.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) criticized the government for systematically slowing down the vote as part of a plot to rig the election.
President Robert Mugabe
The MDC, whose presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai poses the first real challenge to Robert Mugabe’s 22-year rule, accused the administration of failing to provide enough polling stations in areas heavily-populated by MDC followers.
The long lines, they say, accumulated primarily in the urban areas favored by MDC.
Threat of violence
Zimbabwe state television said by Sunday evening only half of the country’s 5.6 million eligible voters had showed up to cast their ballots. The turnout is considerably larger than international observers had expected, given the pervading fear of violence during the last few days of campaigning.
In the run up to the election, international analysts such as the EU election monitor, Pierre Schori, warned of violent uprisings if thousands of MDC voters are unable to cast their ballots or believe the election has been rigged against them.
Over the weekend opposition party members said many of their voters had been scared away from going to the polls. And on Sunday a Norwegian election monitor reported that police had forcefully dispersed waiting voters at urban polling stations, frequented by MDC supporters.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition MDC
On Monday morning Morgan Tsvangirai urged his followers to practice restraint.
"Restrain yourselves as you do not allow their sinister plans to succeed," Tsvangirai said in a statement referring to accusations that Mugabe’s government was stealing the elections. "As you wait for the results, do not succumb to their provocative traps," he cautioned.
In an attempt to suppress the opposition, Mugabe’s government arrested the MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube at a police roadblock southwest of Zimbabwe’s second largest city of Bulawayo. The government has accused Ncube and Tsvangirai of treason for plotting an assassination of Mugabe. Both have denied the allegations.
Asked if he was considering pulling out of the election, Tsvangirai told reporters: "I am not conceding defeat, but anyone who thinks he can endorse this process must have his head examined."