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Zimbabweans Hold Mock Elections in London


Zimbabwean law does not allow citizens outside the country to vote. But to show their solidarity with Zimbabweans who are voting in Saturday's elections, some of those in the diaspora have organized mock balloting. Tendai Maphosa visited one so-called polling station in London and filed this report for VOA.

The closest these exiles can get to Zimbabwe is outside Zimbabwe's embassy in downtown London, where they set up a mock polling station. The carnival atmosphere suggested a celebration, but many of those gathered here said they are aware that, when the votes are counted, there might be little to celebrate. Most are supporting the presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, against long-time president Robert Mugabe, of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

MAN1: "Every one knows that the opposition is going to win the elections, but officially, Robert Mugabe is going to win it."

MAN2: "Mugabe will rig it and he has already done so I am afraid."

MAN3: "Whether they are going to rig the election, I am quite optimistic that the MDC is still going to win."

The mock polling station comes complete with ballot papers, a ballot box, people dressed as polling officials and others in Zimbabwe police and army uniforms.

One complaint of the Zimbabwean opposition is that the presence of police officers in polling stations intimidates voters. The government says the police are there to help those who cannot vote by themselves.

The opposition has also complained that the voting rolls have been inflated. It charges that people who died ages ago and what it describes as non-existent "ghost voters" are on the rolls.

In London, the Zimbabweans enacted scenes showing how, they say, elections are stolen in Zimbabwe.

Ephraim Tapa explains.

"We have seen people coming out of their coffins, the dead casting votes, we have also seen some people declaring that they are illiterate, they are blind, so that they can be assisted by ZANU-PF functionaries who are dressed up in police uniforms and army uniforms, just to illustrate how, to what extent, Mugabe can go in terms of rigging the election," he said.

Agnes, who came to the embassy on Saturday, is a supporter of Morgan Tsvangirai. She is cautiously optimistic that he will succeed in his attempt to be Zimbabwe's second president since the country's independence in 1980.

"Change is what Zimbabwe needs," she said. "We have long suffered, and the hope is that 2008 is the year that we will have that change."

But those who spoke to VOA said they hope that whatever the result, the situation will not degenerate into the kind of violence that followed presidential elections in Kenya last year.

But they also said that the economic difficulties facing the people of Zimbabwe may leave them no choice but to go into the streets.

Zimbabwe is holding presidential, parliamentary and local council elections against the backdrop of the highest inflation rate in the world, high unemployment, and chronic shortages of food, fuel and electricity.

Critics of Mr. Mugabe blame him for the country's crisis. He blames the problems on sanctions imposed by former colonial power, Britain.

Besides Tsvangirai, Mr. Mugabe is also facing a challenge from Simba Makoni, a former finance minister running as an independent.

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