Mugabe addresses nation hours before election

HARARE: Former president Robert Mugabe is expected to air his views at 11pm on Sunday,  on the eve of Zimbabwe’s elections to be held on Monday.

Monday’s vote is the first since he was forced to step down in November after a de facto coup, after 37 years in power, with allegations mounting of voter fraud and predictions of a disputed result.

“He is giving a press conference at Blue Roof (his private residence in Harare),” Mugabe’s press spokesman, who requested not to be named, told AFP.

Media were allowed through the gates of the luxury sprawling mansion in the upmarket suburb of Harare, where chairs were set up on a formal lawn in front of a blue-tiled pagoda where Mugabe was expected to speak shortly.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former ally in the ruling Zanu-PF party, faces opposition leader Nelson Chamisa of the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) in a landmark vote for the southern African nation.

Mnangagwa and Chamisa both held their final election rallies on Saturday, expressing vows to rebuild the economy which suffered under the rule of Mugabe.

Mnangagwa is considered to be the favourite although the latest opinion poll said the race was too close to call.

Zimbabwe’s military generals shocked the world last year when they seized control and ushered Mnangagwa to power after Mugabe, 94, tried to position his wife Grace, 53, to be his successor.

In his only previous press interviews since his fall, Mugabe admitted in March that “some errors were done” under his authoritarian rule, and said he thought his country was now “topsy-turvy”.

“I never thought (Mnangagwa) would be the man who turned against me,” he added.

Fraud concerns

Mnangagwa, 75, who promises a fresh start for the country, is the front-runner with the advantage of covert military support, a loyal state media and a ruling party that controls government resources.

But Chamisa, 40, who has performed strongly on the campaign trail, hopes to tap into a young population that could vote for change as ZANU-PF has ruled since the country’s independence from British colonial rule in 1980.

Elections under Mugabe were marred by fraud and violence, and this year’s campaign has been dominated by accusations that the vote will be rigged.

The MDC has raised allegations of a flawed electoral roll, ballot paper malpractice, voter intimidation, bias in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and free food handed out by the ruling party.

But campaigning has been relatively unrestricted and peaceful compared with previous elections, and some analysts point to pressure for the vote to be judged credible to draw a line under the international isolation of the Mugabe era.

Polling in Zimbabwe is uncertain, but a recent Afrobarometer survey of 2,400 people put Mnangagwa on 40 percent and Chamisa on 37 percent, with 20 percent undecided.

Mnangagwa, who is accused of involvement in election violence and fraud under Mugabe, has vowed to hold a fair vote and invited in international observers — including the previously-banned European Union team.

Final rallies

“What is left now is only one push on Monday to vote — to vote for ZANU-PF so we have a thunderous victory,” Mnangagwa told his supporters who filled about half of the 60,000-capacity national stadium at his final rally on Saturday.

“Today we unlock the potential of our beloved homeland to build a new Zimbabwe for all,” he said, repeating his promise of economic revival.

Chamisa has launched blistering attacks on Mnangagwa and accused the much-criticised Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of trying to fix the election.

But he has also vowed not to boycott the vote, saying his party would still win.

“If we miss our opportunity on Monday, we are doomed because the current government is clueless (but) we are the next government, we are the winners no doubt,” he told a large crowd of more than 10,000 on Saturday.

Chamisa is also due to give a press conference later Sunday.

With 5.6 million registered voters, the results of the presidential, parliamentary and local elections are due by August 4.

A run-off vote is scheduled for September 8 if no presidential candidate wins at least 50 percent in the first round.

– additional info AFP