Mugabe vows to 'surrender' if he loses

2013-07-30 16:48

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Harare - Veteran Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe said on Tuesday he will step down from 33 years in power if he loses Wednesday's knife-edge election.

"If you lose you must surrender," the 89-year-old said at a rare press conference in response to a question about what he would do if he lost.

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Mugabe, through a series of violent and suspect elections, has ruled Zimbabwe for 33 years uninterrupted since it gained independence from Britain.

But he denied any attempts to rig the election, declaring: "We have done no cheating".

He faces a major challenge from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his reluctant partner in an uneasy power-sharing government forged after the last bloody polls in 2008.

Although tainted by sex scandals and allegations of party corruption, Tsvangirai has rallied tens of thousands of supporters on to the streets ahead of the vote.

But Mugabe's foes fear the wily old crocodile of Zimbabwean politics will seek to win what is likely his final election by hook or crook.

Few believe the military - which remains squarely behind the independence hero - would recognise a Tsvangirai victory.

Non-searchable roll

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change on Tuesday handed what they claimed was documentary evidence of plans to rig the election to observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The dossier, which was seen but not verified by AFP, listed around 125 duplicate or questionable voters gleaned from a first examination of the electoral roll.

The MDC said it had received a copy of the roll less than 24 hours before polling stations open, and only in printed - non-searchable - form.

"It is very clear to us there are shenanigans to try and rig this election, to try and interfere with the outcome of this election and to subvert the will of the people of this country," junior minister Jameson Timba told AFP.

"We have seen a lot of duplicate names in the roll where you see somebody is registered twice, same date of birth, same physical address but with a slight difference in their ID number," Timba said, adding this had occurred across various constituencies.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission officials were not available to respond to the allegations.

However, an SADC observer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press, said the MDC dossier raised serious questions.

"It's not normal. If the roll had been released two weeks ago, these kind of problems would have been fixed."

Among sceptics, the dossier will only serve to confirm long-standing suspicions that the chaotic state of the voters' roll could be used to mask any low turnout by Mugabe's supporters.

In June, the Research and Advocacy Unit, a non-government group, reported that the roll included one million dead voters or people who have emigrated, as well as over 100 000 people aged over 100 years old.

Around 6.4 million people are eligible vote in Wednesday's first round and results are expected within five days.

Credible opinion polls are rare, but according to one survey by the US-based Williams firm in March-April, Mugabe could be in for a rough ride.

Out of a survey of 800 Zimbabweans, 61% said they had a favourable view the MDC compared to 27% for Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

The poll showed Tsvangirai leading in seven out of 10 provinces and that only 34 percent of those who voted for Mugabe in 2008 back him for president this time around.

Amid recovery from an economic crisis that saw mass unemployment and some of the highest rates of inflation ever recorded, Mugabe loyalists insist their hero is "tried and tested".

"We have won already. It's a walkover," said Zanu-PF supporter Jestara Mziwanda.

At a final campaign rally Sunday, Mugabe promised further indigenisation of white and foreign-owned assets.

He has also painted his rival as a foreign stooge and warned Zimbabweans against change, citing the fallout after uprisings in Egypt and Libya.

"See what is happening in Egypt. They were fooled and advised to remove their leaders."

On Monday, Tsvangirai drew a vast crowd who directed a chant of "game over" at Mugabe.

He has promised to create one million jobs and has used Mugabe's advanced age as campaign fodder, saying: "How can you let an old man push a plough when there are young people around.

"I want Mugabe to enjoy his retirement in peace and quiet," hinting that Mugabe may be granted immunity if he relinquishes power.

But with the backing of state media, the military and control of most other levers of power, Mugabe remains odds-on favourite.

"Many expect a Mugabe victory, because 'Zanu doesn't lose elections'," said the International Crisis Group.

"Conditions for a free and fair vote do not exist," it said. "A return to protracted political crisis, and possibly extensive violence, is likely."

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  zimbabwe elections 2013  |  southern africa

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