HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said Monday he doesn't trust the nation's state electoral body to conduct free and fair elections on Wednesday and called for their resignation.
Speaking to more than 50,000 supporters at his last rally in downtown Harare, Tsvangirai said he feared the same vote-rigging that marred previous violent and disputed elections in 2008. He said the state Electoral Commission had shown its lack of preparedness after chaos marked early voting on July 14 and 15 for uniformed services on duty July 31.
"They are not up to the responsibility. I say to them, just do the honorable thing and go," he said.
Tsvangirai, 61, faces long-time President Robert Mugabe, 89, and two other minor candidates in presidential polls.
He warned of political unrest if people are turned away from the polls and if rigging is suspected.
"There is potential of unrest if people are not given chance to vote and results don't reflect their will," Tsvangirai told The Associated Press
Later Monday, head of the state Electoral Commission, Judge Rita Makarau, defended the electoral body and said it was ready to hold to credible elections.
Makarau said the commission has established 9, 735 polling stations across the country. She said the printing of ballot papers, one day away from voting, is now "99 percent complete" and voters' lists are being dispatched to the provinces.
Polling stations will be open until everyone in line has cast their ballot, she said.
"It is our duty to serve everyone. No voter will be turned away," Makarau said.
Tsvangirai told his supporters on Monday that "Zimbabweans has been short-changed" by the way polls were being administered by the electoral body.
"Don't dare do it again, I don't respect deliberate attempts to subvert the people's will," Tsvangirai said. "No one will get away with stealing from the people."
The elections on Wednesday will be the Tsvangirai's third attempt at the nation's presidency since 2002.
He claims Mugabe rigged the elections contested by him. The disputed and violent poll in 2008 led to an acrimonious coalition with Mugabe that was brokered by the leaders of neighboring countries.
"Mugabe lost in 2008 but found a way to come back through the back door, but this time there will be no coalition," Tsvangirai said.
About 13,210 election observers have been accredited to monitor the vote, some 800 of them from neighboring African counties and the continent-wide African Union headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, a respected African elder statesman, according to electoral commission chair Makarau.
She said ballots will be counted at polling stations and will be displayed outside each voting post.
All polling officials were expected to be "firm on the ground" by the end of Tuesday.
No campaigning is allowed Tuesday, the day before the national vote.