HARARE (Reuters) - A Zimbabwean opposition leader on Sunday told supporters to keep a close watch on polling stations in Saturday’s election to stop what he said was a bid by President Robert Mugabe’s government to rig the vote.
Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the larger faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), charged that Mugabe had stolen past elections but vowed that his fractured party would fight any fraud in the March 29 vote.
Mugabe’s 28-year hold on power faces a serious test from a resurgent Tsvangirai and former finance minister Simba Makoni, both who are campaigning on a platform of ending a severe economic crisis that has ravaged the once promising country.
“We expect the enemies of justice to engage in every trick in the book. We are ready for them (and) those who want to subvert the will of Zimbabweans,” Tsvangirai told thousands of jubilant supporters at a huge rally in the capital Harare.
“We are taking every measure to stop that rigging. We will not leave those polls,” he said.
“When we vote, we defend those votes. When we vote, we defend our victory. Do not leave those polls.”
Tsvangirai’s MDC came close to ousting Mugabe from power in parliamentary elections in 2000 and in a presidential vote in 2002 but his credentials have been questioned since a serious split in MDC ranks in 2005 over strategy.
The former trade unionist, whose MDC enjoys majority support in urban areas, said in his speech punctuated by anti-Mugabe slogans that he was not cowed by threats from some senior defense forces chiefs that they may not accept his victory.
“LAST GASPS OF DICTATORSHIP”
All election candidates have promised to ease the world’s highest inflation rate, officially put at over 100,000 percent, and severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages.
“I have heard some, especially in government, saying Morgan Tsvangirai will never be president,” said Tsvangirai as supporters who waved red cards signaling Mugabe’s time was up.
“But let me tell you, I have been assured that in spite of utterances by some individuals ... the majority of the security forces are behind the people.”
Mugabe, 84, and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has vowed Tsvangirai will never rule Zimbabwe and on Sunday repeated his vow to supporters during a rally at an amphitheatre in the second city of Bulawayo.
The veteran leader accuses the MDC of forging a “treasonous” alliance with Britain in a bid to remove him from power and reverse his government’s seizure of white-owned land for blacks.
“Tsvangirai will never rule this country, never, never, never,” Mugabe said.
Tsvangirai predicted a chaotic poll, accusing the election commission of not being fully prepared for the vote.
“We will witness the last gasps of the dictatorship come the 29th of March,” Tsvangirai said.
“The people of Zimbabwe will win a great victory and in April you will be inaugurating a new president. I am going to be elected by the mandate of the people of Zimbabwe.”
Additional reporting by Mike Saburi in Bulawayo
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