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Apathy hits Zimbabwe vote turnout


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HARARE, Zimbabwe (Reuters) -- Zimbabwe's economic crisis, and general apathy has hit voter turnout in urban council elections ending Sunday, officials and analysts said.

Zimbabweans voted in small numbers at the start of the elections Saturday, and polling officials said the figures were lower on Sunday, and the final turnout could end up at around 30 percent of registered voters.

Officials from the state electoral commission said voting was slow and peaceful in the 16 towns where the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party are contesting some mayoral posts and 130 council seats.

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The MDC has emerged as the biggest threat to Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980. The MDC won a majority of parliamentary seats in general parliamentary elections in 2000.

Victory in the polls would expand the MDC's symbolic grip on major towns -- but the government has imposed central control of municipalities through sweeping powers held by the minister of local government affairs.

Political analysts said Mugabe's party looked like the underdog because of the MDC building support over the past three years, thriving on an economic crisis blamed by many on government mismanagement.

But they said a lower turnout could favor his ZANU-PF as its small band of urban activists have tended to be the more dedicated voters since the MDC's formation in 1999.

Apathy and shortages

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, free on bail pending trial on charges of plotting to assassinate Mugabe, said after casting his vote on Saturday that many people were more concerned with bread and butter issues than voting.

On Saturday, thousands of Zimbabweans were stuck in bank queues, waiting for cash -- just the latest everyday item to become in short supply due to the economic crisis.

"Yes, there is some truth that the economic crisis has affected the turnout...but today is a Sunday and people are still not voting, and that to me is because of general apathy," a political analyst from the Zimbabwe Institute of Development Studies said.

"It's apathy from people who are saying that these elections are not that important," he said.

In the run-up to the polls, the MDC accused ZANU-PF of violence, intimidation and tampering with the voter register. ZANU-PF denied the charges.

On Saturday, MDC information secretary Paul Themba-Nyathi said voting had been marred by violence in some districts, including the stoning of a vehicle driven by an opposition legislator and the assault of some party activists.

Electoral Supervisory Commission spokesman Thomas Bvuma said on Sunday the elections had largely been smooth, although the commission was "looking at a couple of complaints."

The municipal polls are running concurrently with two parliamentary by-elections in the capital Harare and in Zimbabwe's northwestern rural Makonde district.

Results are expected between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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