Mugabe's solo victory gives democracy a hollow ring

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Associated Press

Harare - Apathy and Robert Mugabe appeared to be the winners yesterday in a presidential election plagued by confusion and claims of corruption.

President Mugabe was struggling to attract a voter mandate to counter complaints that he has turned a once-promising democracy into a dictatorship. But he was none the less poised to extend his 16-year rule for another six-year term after his two challengers pulled out at the last minute. Election officials said 1.2 million voters - about 25 per cent of the electorate - cast their ballots by 1pm on the second and last day of polling. A final tally was not available when polling stations closed, but officials said voting generally appeared lighter than on Saturday. The rate of polling yesterday was likely to give an overall vote of about 30 per cent, the lowest since independence in 1980.

It would be the first time since the end of white rule that turn-out dipped below 50 per cent. In the early years of black rule, it was common for 80 per cent of voters to go to the polls, and in the last presidential vote, in 1990, more than half the 4.9 million voters went.

This year, Zimbabweans seemed to feel there was no reason to go through the charade of voting when Mr Mugabe had no challengers.

Even before Bishop Abel Muzorewa and the Rev Ndabaningi Sithole announced their withdrawals, the opposition's lack of organisation and resources and the ruling party's hold on government funds and the media made it difficult for voters to see any alternative to Mr Mugabe.

Earlier yesterday, his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party urged supporters to go to the polls.

Election officials said Bishop Muzorewa and Mr Sithole raised concerns too late to have their names taken off ballots, but both distanced themselves from a contest they said was corrupt and called on their supporters not to vote.