If it depended on this morning’s state-owned The Herald newspaper, Morgan Tsvangirai’s massive rally a few hundred metres from Zanu-PF’s headquarters never happened.
Instead, it carries a picture of a Zanu-PF parliamentary candidate sharing a light moment with an elderly woman at a rally held in Domboramwari, east of Harare, yesterday.
The rally, organised by the MDC-T and attended by tens of thousands of people, took almost the whole day and painted the large open piece of council-owned veld called Freedom Square red yesterday.
Instead, The Herald is leading with “US blocks poll survey”, a story on how the United States had reportedly gagged New York-based liberal think tank Freedom House from releasing its latest survey results. Poll results released by Freedom House last year showed the MDC-T’s support was waning.
In this morning’s paper, it says the organisation’s latest survey results “indicate a crushing victory for President Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF in harmonised elections due tomorrow”.
The paper also quotes London-based The Guardian saying Mugabe had “confounded his critics” and was “set to romp to victory”.
Western media is often criticised by Zanu-PF for being biased towards the opposition, so it’s likely to feel vindicated by such reports.
“Sources close to the US gag order said the Freedom House survey results give President Mugabe a 10% lead over Mr Tsvangirai of MDC-T and predicts a two-thirds majority for Zanu-PF in the National Assembly where the revolutionary party is tipped to garner at least 140 seats in the 210-seat lower house,” the paper reports. No prizes for guessing which horse this paper is backing.
A second story on the front page has the headline: “Key allies dump Tsvangirai, give poll preps the thumbs up”. It’s about various NGOs and Western diplomats saying all was peaceful ahead of the elections. Tsvangirai has been claiming that the country is not ready and that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission wasn’t up to the job.
In the independent media, the story is somewhat different. The two tabloid-sized NewsDay and Daily News papers both have front pages with pictures of the massive crowds at yesterday’s MDC-T rally.
Daily News, which is owned by Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe and which started publishing again in 2011 after almost a decade-long ban, proclaims: “Game over. 100 000-plus attend MDC rally”. It’s somewhat difficult to count people in a crowd, but even so, this figure seems to be somewhat inflated (I was there). New kid on the block NewsDay, which has been publishing since 2010, puts the figure at 50 000 while our own reporting put it at about 30 000.
Still, it was a pretty impressive crowd. Daily News goes on to report about the rally on page 2, where there is a picture of Tsvangirai kicking soccer balls into the crowd yesterday (this caused a mini-stampede as people jostled to get their hands on a ball).
The paper writes: “If the scenes and mood in Harare yesterday were anything to go by, President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF is in for a defeat in Wednesday’s key harmonised elections.” And then, anticipating counterspin by the ruling party, which would point out that urban areas are the MDC-T’s stronghold, the paper writes: “While the octogenarian leader’s spin doctors will argue that ‘Harare is not Zimbabwe’, the verve and build-up to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s crossover rally aptly captures the change mood sweeping across the country.”
There is also a story about the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission owning up to electoral irregularities, a claim Tsvangirai has been making all along. It seems the names of police officers who voted during the chaotic special vote procedures last week would be scrapped from the voting register to prevent them from voting twice. The paper also promises an exclusive interview with Tsvangirai tomorrow.
NewsDay’s reporting is more balanced. “’Mugabe must go’, Tsvangirai tells bumper crowd at Harare rally”, its front page declares. “An estimated 50 000 MDC-T supporters thronged the open space behind Rainbow Towers in Harare – dubbed ‘Freedom Square’ – yesterday for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s final rally ahead of tomorrow’s make-or-break elections,” it says, and goes on to report Tsvangirai saying he’s ready to govern. Most of the story consists of quotes of Tsvangirai’s speech.
NewsDay devotes four inside pages, in addition to two news pages, to elections coverage. One of the pages gives an assessment of all the presidential candidates, and lists their strengths and weaknesses. There is also an interview with Welshman Ncube, who is set to finish in third place in the presidential elections, making him a possible king maker and an interesting candidate to watch.
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