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Mugabe: If I lose I will surrender

President Robert Mugabe says he will step down if he loses the election.

A group of Zanu-PF supporters attending a political rally held by party leader Robert Mugabe. Picture: CNN

HARARE - Voting is underway in Zimbabwe's 2013 presidential and parliamentary elections, with President Robert Mugabe saying he will respect the will of the people if he loses and step down.

"Win or lose, you can't be both. You either win or you lose. If you lose you must surrender to those that have won."

The election is seen as a fiercely contested one, pitting Mugabe against his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who has vowed to push Africa's oldest leader into retirement after 33 years in power.

"In 2008 I won the election, but he [Mugabe] didn't want to give up power. So I think you have to take it with a pinch of salt. If the conditions are free and fair and everyone believes the game has been played fairly, then we have to respect the will of the people."

Mugabe denies charges by Tsvangirai that he's trying to rig the elections and attributed his allegations to the cut and thrust of an election campaign.

The 89-year-old Zanu-PF leader said being in a power-sharing government with Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has broken down suspicion and suggests they can shake hands once the election battle is over.

Tsvangirai appears confident his party will win this year's polls.

"It is a historic event. What I can only anticipate is a victory for the MDC as shown by the overwhelming desire by the people of this country for change."

Zimbabweans have been lining up since just after midnight, waiting to cast their votes.

At a primary school in the eastern Harare suburb of Greendale around 500 people were standing in the queue.

Voters said they were in good spirits but not all were excited as they had been through the process many times before. Inside the polling station 18 people crowded around the ballot boxes.

There were local observers looking on and party agents but no sign of the hundreds of foreign observers who are in the country to monitor the elections.

RIGGING AND INTIMIDATION

On Tuesday, the MDC in Zimbabwe said it had evidence that Mugabe was trying to rig the election.

The party's Douglas Mwonzora listed steps he believes were being taken to deny voters their electoral choice.

Mwonzora said he had proof the Zimbabwean authorities planned to slow down the voting process in the opposition stronghold cities of Harare and Bulawayo in particular.

He claimed there were plans to hand results to the military leadership first, which breaks the electoral law.

He also said there were plans to limit mobile and internet traffic to block proper monitoring of the election.

Mwonzora said claims were emanating from rural areas, where Mugabe has traditionally strong support, that tribal leaders were being paid to pressure their subjects into voting for him.

Mwonzora insisted the MDC would only accept the outcome of the election if it was judged to be free and fair.

The claims coincided with a passionate protest by three Zimbabwean exiles in Johannesburg, who chained themselves to a statue of Nelson Mandela at Sandton City.

The trio wrapped a thick silver chain around their necks at the base of the 2.7 metre bronze statue in Mandela Square, saying they were calling for freedom in their home country.

ANC HOPES FOR FREE ELECTIONS

The ANC said in a statement that it hoped Wednesday's elections would build a society free of violence, fear and intimidation.

The party said the elections were a critical milestone in the implementation of the global political agreement in the country and resolving the stalemate following the last elections that were marred with violence.

"The ANC hopes that the elections will be fair, open and transparent," said the party's Keith Khoza.