NAIROBI, Kenya — Zimbabweans head to the polls today in presidential and parliamentary elections, but even before the ballots are cast, there are allegations of fraud that throw doubt over the legitimacy of the vote and whether it will lead to a peaceful outcome.
The country's 89-year-old autocrat, Robert Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980, is seeking another five-year term as president. Critics and analysts allege his loyalists have manipulated the voting process in myriad ways in an attempt to ensure victory.
There are reports of "ghost voters" and hundreds of thousands of deceased people on the voter registration lists. Voters have complained about being improperly registered or not being registered at all. Human rights activists allege intimidation and interference by the government, its military and security forces in the runup to the elections.
Underscoring the rising tensions, Mugabe's main opponent, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who is challenging Mugabe for a third time, last week accused election officials of throwing away votes cast in his favor by roughly 70,000 police and soldiers who voted early.
And over the weekend Tsvangirai, 61, declared that he had no confidence in the electoral commission to conduct legitimate elections. He warned that if there were any delays in the official results like what unfolded in the disputed 2008 elections, he would break the law and announce the election outcome.
On Tuesday, Mugabe denied that his supporters have engaged in vote-rigging and said he would step down if he loses the elections after 33 years at the helm of a once prosperous nation whose economy is now in dire shape.
"We have done no cheating, never, ever," Mugabe told a news conference in Harare.