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Zimbabwe Analysts Predict Easy Mugabe Victory in Saturday's Presidential Election

Analysts loyal to the ruling ZANU-PF at the University of Zimbabwe's political science department have predicted that President Robert Mugabe will easily win a new term in Saturday's election. Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare that the prediction comes as Mr. Mugabe faces his stiffest competition yet, from two powerful candidates.

In the violent 2002 presidential election Mr. Mugabe won the vote with a 52 percent majority.

The run up to Saturday's voting has been mostly peaceful and there has been a resurgence of popularity for main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as well as rejection of ZANU-PF in several key rural areas, but the prediction in the state controlled daily, The Herald, is that Mr. Mugabe will win by 57 percent this time.

The researchers from the political science department at the University of Zimbabwe are openly supportive of ZANU-PF.

The department's chairman Joseph Kurebwa also predicted that the now seriously divided ZANU-PF will also win more than two thirds of parliamentary, senatorial and local government seats in voting on Saturday.

He said his department conducted interviews with more than 10,000 people around the country.

However, founding legal secretary of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, David Coltart, disputes claims of Mr. Mugabe's continued popularity. He says in the southern Matabeleland provinces Mr. Mugabe is trailing badly.

Matabeleland accounts for about 20 percent of the vote.

"What is absolutely clear is that Robert Mugabe is in enormous difficulty in Matabeleland," he said. "At the very least, the hardcore support of ZANU-PF that is provided to him by the old ZIPRA war veterans, I think is gone. What we don't know is whether Simba Makoni or Morgan Tsvangirai will benefit from that swing."

It does appear though that in Harare, and some of the cities and suburban areas in the North and East of the country, that Morgan Tsvangirai has benefited more from that than independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni.

Complaints about flawed election practices have again surfaced. David Coltart says, in particular, the voter's roll has many names of people who are long dead.

"We are very concerned about the voters roll," he noted. "The voters roll is seriously deficient in a variety of respects, there are many dead people on it. The voters roll that I have got for example in my constituency is missing a whole chunk of names, all the surnames between C and M are completely missing."

Coltart has also expressed concern about the Zimbabwe electoral commission, the body that conducts the election, because the person in charge of that appears to be partisan.

He says the police have also been partisan in the past, and of course Robert Mugabe has made it very clear in recent statements that he simply will not allow the opposition to win.

In rural areas some voters say openly that they had voted for Mr. Mugabe in the past, but that they are now suffering and will vote for Mr. Tsvangirai in the presidential election.

Zimbabwe has been suffering from hyper-inflation and at least a third of the population is receiving food handouts from the west.

There are more than 9,400 polling stations for Saturday's election. All counting has to be done at the polling station and those results forwarded to a central command center in Harare for the presidential poll.

Tendai Biti, Morgan Tsvangirai's secretary-general says he fears this is where the main rigging could take place, the transfer of vote counts from deep rural areas to Harare.

Officials from Mr. Mugabe's Cabinet say he is a democrat and will accept the results, even if he should lose.