London, June 16 : Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has secured a comfortable head start of at least 130,000 votes through rigged voting by members of the security forces in this month's run-off election against the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Members of the army, air force and police have been forced to cast ballots in favour of Mugabe at their barracks and stations, The Independent reported.
"It is not unusual for members of the security forces to cast their votes ahead of polling day. But the decision to force them to fill the ballots for Mugabe in front of their station superiors is unusual, and is blatantly illegal," sources said.
Although coercive voting of this kind has been attempted before, military sources said it was considerably worse this time, with spouses and children, particularly those living in barracks and police camps, also being forced to fill ballots for Mugabe.
It is estimated that Mugabe could have at least 130,000 to 150,000 votes before actual balloting begins on June27. That would give the President a comfortable advantage in what could be a close election.
In the strongest condemnation so far of the Mugabe Government, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband attacked what he called the "sadism" of the regime.
Miliband also warned the South African Government that it had a responsibility to take decisive action in the face of the worsening crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe, the paper reported.
Meanwhile, Mugabe declared on Sunday that he was prepared to hand over power, but only to an ally from within his own ruling party. Such an ally must nevertheless have demonstrated his ability to "keep Zimbabwe away from the white man."
His remarks, which followed a threat on Saturday to "declare war" if he is voted out of power, further entrench fears that Zimbabwe will be plunged into bloodshed if he loses the run-off.
In the presidential election, Tsvangirai won the first round of voting on 29 March by 47 per cent to Mugabe's 43 per cent.