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Runoff Presidential 'Election' Under Way in Zimbabwe

Voting got off to a slow start in the uncontested presidential runoff poll in Zimbabwe in which President Robert Mugabe is seeking to entrench himself as president for an another five years. However, as Peta Thornycroft reports for VOA from Harare, the outcome is unlikely to be recognized, even by Mr. Mugabe's neighbors.

When polls opened opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai told voters that they should not only vote, but vote for Mr. Mugabe if it was the only thing they could do to protect themselves from harm.

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change has been warning that voters have been told that if they fail to vote and, in many cases, vote for Mr. Mugabe, they will be subjected to violence.

One voter from Chinhoyi, the capital of Mr. Mugabe's home province Mashonaland, told VOA people in the province have been taken night after night to so-called re-education camps run by Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. There they were beaten and threatened and and told they will be in extreme trouble if they do not vote for Mr. Mugabe.

In the March election, voters in Mashonaland - for the first time since Mr. Mugabe came to power - switched their votes for candidates from other parties.

A vegetable vendor in a working class suburb southwest of Harare said she had been forced to vote because she said ZANU-PF youth told her two days ago if she didn't she would lose her trading license.

Very few people turned up to vote in the high density Harare suburbs compared with the elections on March 29. In the less populated suburbs there were polling stations where not a single person had voted three hours after voting opened at 7:00 a.m. local time.

One man, an auto electrician in a suburb called St Mary's south of Harare, said he had voted for Mr. Mugabe because he said Tsvangirai wanted to hand Zimbabwe back to the whites. He said Mr. Mugabe would be declared the winner and all the country's factories would be given to black Zimbabweans.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said that voters have been warned that armed ZANU-PF militia will check to see if their little fingers are colored pink from the dye used in polling stations to mark those individuals who have voted. He said people, particularly in rural areas, fear they will be butchered if they do not have a pink little finger when polls close. The ink lasts for about 24 hours.

More than 9,000 polling stations are mostly in schools or government buildings but a few are in tents as in a Harare suburb where two members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police were already on duty early yesterday. One officer told VOA he and his colleagues were required to vote in the presence of their superiors. He suggested that perhaps he had defaced his ballot. Known as spoiling the ballot, it is a tactic common in this region when voters do not support the process or the candidates.

There are no independent domestic election observers, however there will be observers from ZANU-PF aligned organizations. The Southern Africa Development Community said they had been going around to some of the polling stations checking to see if there was any trouble.

Military sources in Harare said Thursday that the people employed Friday to preside over the elections were security forces dressed in plain clothes. The electoral laws specifically prohibit members of the security forces from involvement in the elections.

Since those SADC mediated laws were amended in January, Mr. Mugabe passed a decree allowing police back inside polling stations.