(dpa) - Voting got underway in Zimbabwe Saturday in an election where President Robert Mugabe faces an uphill battle to retain his 28-year grip on power.
Some 5.9 million Zimbabweans are listed as registered to vote in the presidential, parliamentary and local polls. Mugabe, 84, faces a stiff challenge in his bid for another five years as president from Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former finance minister Simba Makoni, standing as an independent.
Polling stations across the country - around 9,000 in total - opened at 7 am (0500 GMT) and were due to close at 7 pm.
The elections are being held against the backdrop of Zimbabwe's economic collapse, characterized by inflation of more than 100,000 per cent, shortages of staple foods, fuel and cash and the flight into exile of around one-quarter of the population of 12 million.
Mugabe's populist policies, including the lawless seizure by ruling party members and cronies of thousands of white-owned farms since 2000, are widely blamed for the situation.
The polls are likely to be chaotic because voters are being asked for the first time to choose a new president, a new 210-member House of Assembly, 60-seat senate and local government - all in one day.
Election watchdog organizations have already raised concerns over the fairness of the polls, citing several irregularities skewing the process in Mugabe's favour. The MDC has called for large-scale protests in the event of rigging.
The last three elections since 2000, which Mugabe has won, have been described as flawed by Western observers.