March 11, 2005

Elections body to double polling stations

Zimbabwe will double the number of polling stations in parliamentary elections at the end of this month to enable people to vote in a single day, the electoral commission has announced. The move appeared designed to meet objections by the opposition and by electoral observers that the previous practice of voting over two days presented opportunities for overnight tampering with ballot boxes. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairman, High Court judge George Chiweshe, announced that his organisation was confident it would run a free and fair poll.
Although this year's campaign has been free of the violence that accompanied the last parliamentary poll five years ago and the 2002 presidential elections, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claims that laws governing the vote favour Zanu PF. Mugabe has 30 seats reserved for presidential appointees and traditional chiefs aligned to his party, and his government only eased the MDC's access to key rural areas in the last three months to campaign for the 120 seats up for grabs.
The MDC charges that Zanu PF rigged the last parliamentary and presidential elections to steal victory, a view supported by many Western observers. Mugabe denies the charge as well as suggestions that he has failed to meet international demands for wide-ranging electoral reforms. Recent reforms include the use of transparent ballot boxes, single-day voting and ballot-counting at the polling stations immediately after the close of polls. Chiweshe said the electoral commission planned to set up over 8.200 polling stations - about double the number used in the last parliamentary elections. "We have created the capacity for voting in one day. We have doubled the number of polling stations," he said. "The commission shall do everything in its power to ensure that the forthcoming elections are conducted freely, fairly and efficiently and in a transparent manner," he said.


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