President Robert Mugabe is now officially the ZANU-PF candidate for the presidential poll on March 29. Peta Thornycroft in Harare reports for VOA, he and two others: opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and long time ZANU-PF member and former finance minister Simba Makoni, were sworn in as candidates on Friday.

Only Simba Makoni came to the nomination court in Harare in person to present his papers to the Zimbabwe Election Commission. His application as an independent was accepted, but his election symbol, a rising sun, was not allowed. No clear reason was given.

Makoni's candidacy means that for the first time, the presidential vote will be split three ways. The winning candidate has to get 51percent of the vote. If none of the candidates gets more than 50 percent, there must be a run-off of between the two candidates with the highest within 21 days.

President Mugabe has always won in the first round. The closest he came was to losing was in 2002, when he claimed to have had a 15 percent advantage over opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai.

An independent investigation into that poll, indicated that Tsvangirai should have won the election, but with a tiny majority of only about 70,000 votes.

Now election analysts say that the entry of Simba Makoni as a presidential candidate could whittle away Mugabe's support and that for the first time, there may be a second round in the presidential poll.

Around the rest of the country, candidates for parliamentary, senate and local government elections, which will be held on the same day, were sworn in.

The faction of the MDC led by scientist Arthur Mutambara has agreed to an election alliance with Makoni. Mutambara announced Friday that he will therefore not stand for the presidency, and that his party will not compete with candidates loyal to Makoni in the national and local vote.

The MDC is split into two factions.

For the first time in many years, VOA was able to openly interview ordinary people in the street. Of about 20, mostly men who were only prepared to be interviewed anonymously, two said they would remain loyal to President Mugabe regardless of how much further the economy fell.

The government acknowledged Thursday inflation has topped 66,000 percent, although private sector economists believe it is double that figure. This does not worry one of Mugabe's supporters.

"What's going to happen between the three candidates, President Robert Mugabe is going to win, simply because he commands the majority of the supporters in Zimbabwe," the supporter said. "Tsvangirai has been a loser, always, he has become a professional loser. Simba Makoni is too junior in experience and is not known by the people of Zimbabwe, so he can not be leader of this country."

Two young men said they are loyal to Tsvangirai. They said they suspect that Simba Makoni's entry into politics, when he still claimed to belong to ZANU-PF, is a trick to divert votes away from the opposition.

Two men who previously in the construction industry, said they are miserable because they are not registered as voters because Makoni entered the race so late they could not get identification cards in time to become registered. They said they support Makoni and for the first time believe there is a candidate in the race who can stop Mugabe.

Four people selling artifacts in the street said elections were a waste of time as they would be rigged, and two newspaper vendors said people would now be confused by three candidates and this would help Mugabe.

A group of foreign currency dealers on the pavement in Harare said they will go and listen to both Makoni and Tsvangirai and see which had the best message. They said they will not vote for President Mugabe.

One man, visibly shocked at the sight of individuals being openly interviewed on the streets, interrupted saying it was not fair to interview Zimbabweans on the streets.