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Mugabe Dissolves Cabinet Prior to Zimbabwean Elections

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has dissolved his Cabinet prior to national elections on Saturday. Nearly six million registered voters are due to go to the polls but the opposition says there already are signs of irregularities. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from our Southern Africa Bureau in Johannesburg.

The dissolution of the Zimbabwean Cabinet officially paves the way for elections in which voters are to choose a president, national assembly, senate and local councils.

President Robert Mugabe is seeking a sixth term. He is being challenged by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and by independent candidate Simba Makoni.

Observers say the campaign has been far less violent than in previous elections and opposition candidates have been able to campaign in what had been forbidden areas. But the opposition says there are many irregularities.

The Harare high court has dismissed a request by the opposition MDC to be given copies of the voters' registration list.

MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti said the party wants to check the lists because it believes they have been inflated with non-existent voters. And he notes that nine million ballots have been printed for less than six million voters.

"We suspect that the three million [extra ballots] will give them an artificial majority of 58 percent," said Biti. "We think that when they have stolen this election on Monday or Sunday they want to declare a majority of 58 percent."

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa rejected Friday the accusation on South African national television.

"There is no basis whatsoever to the allegations made by the MDC against the electoral process," said Chinamasa. "What is very clear of course is that they are running scared of defeat tomorrow [Saturday]."

The opposition also objects to a late edict allowing security officials into voting booths. The government says they are to help illiterate voters but the opposition fears they will intimidate its supporters.

The election campaign was one of the liveliest in decades.

Tsvangirai has drawn considerable support from Zimbabweans unhappy over an economic crisis characterized by hyper-inflation, 80 percent unemployment and shortages of food, fuel and other basic goods.

"This is a government that has promoted hate; that cannot do anything for your problems," said Tsvangirai. "They can't keep the teachers in school. They can't keep food in the supermarket. They cannot provide medicine in the hospitals. Neither can they provide jobs for the wealth of our workers."

Makoni, a former finance minister who was expelled from Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party after he declared his candidacy, is being backed by several senior ZANU-PF leaders. This has led some to say he may draw votes away from the president, which Mr. Mugabe dismissed.

"I say ahhh, you are cheating yourselves," said Makoni. "The people, the people have refused [to be cheated]."

In order to win, a candidate must receive at least half of the votes cast Saturday. If not, he must face the candidate with the second most votes in a runoff election within three weeks.