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Zimbabweans vote amid predictions that Mugabe's days are numbered
HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Voter turnout remained heavy Sunday in Zimbabwe's second day of elections, with one opposition leader predicting that President Robert Mugabe is "history."
Mugabe's ruling party, however, said the 20-year president would bar the opposition Movement for Democratic Change from government regardless of what happens this weekend.
Thousands of voters flocked to the polls in this south African country on the final of two days of voting in parliamentary elections. Some citizens slept outside polling places Saturday night to ensure they could cast their votes when Sunday arrived.
After months of unrest in Zimbabwe, some feared voters would face violence and intimidation when they cast their ballots. Observers, however, say the country has been relatively peaceful.
Citizens are voting for 120 seats, almost all of which are controlled by Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. The vote is considered a watershed moment for Zimbabwe, with some predicting the autocratic rule of the 76-year-old Mugabe is in peril.
Election results are expected to be tallied late Monday or early Tuesday.
Opposition support has surged
Mugabe doesn't face election for two years, but leaders in the MDC have vowed to try to speed up his departure if they gain power this weekend.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai , while touring polling stations Sunday, said high voter turnout favors his party. He said Mugabe's days as president are numbered, and he dismissed reports that Mugabe would try to block the MDC from power.
"It doesn't matter what he does. That's the end," Tsvangirai told reporters on a stop in the poor, black township of Budiriro, near the capital of Harare.
Started just nine months ago, the MDC has gained widespread support under the leadership of the charismatic Tsvangirai. Analysts say the former trade union leader represents the most serious challenge to Mugabe yet.
Yvonne Mahlunge, also of the MDC, told CNN that Mugabe should consider stepping down if the opposition takes over in parliament.
"If there is a majority MDC government, the president has the choice to be run out or to make an honorable exit," Mahlunge said. "We don't want to end up having to impeach Mugabe."
Mugabe predicts victory
For his part, Mugabe seems untroubled by the political challenge. During public appearances Sunday in Harare, his mood appeared sunny, and he confidently predicted his party will remain in control.
The former schoolteacher reportedly compared the opposition to children, noting that if they misbehaved he would "throw them out of school."
John Nkomo, ZANU-PF's national chairman and a senior minister in Mugabe's administration, told a news conference that the president had the sole right to appoint his Cabinet from those elected to parliament.
"There will be no change in government," he said. "ZANU-PF will form the government whatever the results. There will be no opposition in government."
A white farmer speaks out
About 5.1 million of the country's 12.5 million people were eligible to vote in weekend elections. Public discontent has been rising, driven by mounting economic problems in the former British colony.
In February, Mugabe suffered a surprising political defeat when voters refused in a referendum to enhance his powers.
Since then, veterans of the country's 1980 liberation war have engaged in state-sponsored invasions of white-owned farms. Mugabe has supported the invasions, arguing that British settlers stole the land when they first colonized the country.
At least 30 people, most of them MDC supporters, have died in the violence.
Among the white farmers who have been invaded in recent months is Jonathan Spence, who was born in the country back when it was known as Rhodesia.
Spence's farm is north of Harare. About 120 war veterans are encamped near his house, and his main complaint is the noise they make while drinking during the weekend.
"I have no real problems with them," Spence said. "But it is unsettling, particularly when they are drunk. My laborers also feel uneasy then because the vets become a little unpredictable. They start (stealing) things like chickens."
Spence admits that full racial integration has a long way to go in Zimbabwe, but he says Mugabe's election campaign has widened a rift between blacks and whites that was slowly closing.
After 20 years in power, the Mugabe regime has become financially and morally bankrupt, he said.
"This election has nothing to do with whites or the land issue," Spence said. "This election is all about whether the people of this country are sick and tired of ZANU and whether they want to give someone else a chance to run it properly."
Large turnout expected for Day 2 of Zimbabwe elections
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