HARARE, June 27 – Zimbabwe held a run-off election Friday with Robert Mugabe as the sole candidate, as the opposition urged the world to reject the result and told supporters to vote for the president if necessary.,
With victory for the 84-year-old Mugabe a foregone conclusion, his long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai, along with the United States and the European Union, dismissed the process as a sham.
Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), won the first round 13 weeks ago with 47.9 percent of votes to Mugabe’s 43.2 percent.
The MDC says Mugabe has since tilted the election in his favour through a campaign of systematic violence and intimidation and Tsvangirai pulled out of the contest last weekend.
Despite state media predictions of a "massive" turnout, numbers voting in Harare were well down on the first round although reports from rural areas suggested polling stations were busier there.
Mugabe and his family voted in the Harare suburb of Highfields, the veteran incumbent beaming to reporters after casting his ballot.
"I feel very fit and very optimistic," he said.
Amid a raft of allegations that people were being intimidated to vote for Mugabe, Tsvangirai said there was no point in acts of defiance.
"If possible, we ask you not to vote today. But if you must vote for Mr Mugabe because of threats to your life, then do so," he wrote in a letter to supporters.
"If forced to cast your ballot for Mr Mugabe to avoid personal harm, then again I say do so."
In some areas of the country, there were allegations officials were inspecting ballot papers before they were placed in boxes.
A senior MDC activist in Nyamapanda, near the Mozambique border, said he had intended to spoil his paper but was confronted by an official from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party who demanded to see the voting slip.
"There was no way out. I had to vote for Mugabe," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The simultaneous March 29 presidential and legislative elections saw ZANU-PF lose control of parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980 although the outcome is being challenged in the courts.
Mugabe said at his final rally he wants to continue as president after ruling uninterrupted since independence. While he would be willing to talk to the opposition, negotiations would begin only after he had won a sixth term.
But in a press conference on Friday, Tsvangirai urged the international community to not to recognise the run-off.
"Anyone who recognises the result of this election is denying the will of the Zimbabwean people and standing in the way of a transition that will deliver stability and prosperity not just to the country, but to the region," he said.
Tsvangirai said he could not see "any role" in the future for South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has been mediating between Zimbabwe’s opposition and ruling party, if he recognised victory for his old ally Mugabe.
"How can you recognise this kind of sham?"
The opposition leader said he was open to negotiations, but added: "Who do you negotiate with? Mugabe will be illegitimate."
After his press conference, Tsvangirai returned to the Dutch embassy, where he had taken refuge on Sunday, party spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.
Although Mbeki has been loathe to criticise Mugabe, his revered predecessor Nelson Mandela has condemned a "tragic failure of leadership" in Zimbabwe.
Foreign Ministers from the Group of Eight industrialised powers said Friday they would not accept Zimbabwe’s government as legitimate if it "does not reflect the will" of the people and deplored the "systematic violence, obstruction and intimidation."
Zimbabwe was also to be discussed by African Union foreign ministers preparing for a summit in Egypt next week.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the vote a "sham" and said Washington would consider how to pressure Mugabe at the UN Security Council.
In Brussels, a European Commission spokeswoman said: "The election is hollow and its result will be equally hollow and meaningless."
Viewed in the first years after independence as a post-colonial success story, Zimbabwe has seen its economy collapse since thousands of white-owned farms were expropriated by the state at the turn of the decade.
The one-time regional breadbasket now experiences shortages of even the most basic foods while inflation — officially put at 165,000 percent but in reality many times higher still — is the highest in the world.