March 19, 2005

Three million voters barred from election

More than 3 million Zimbabwean expatriates have been barred from voting in the imminent parliamentary elections by a Supreme Court ruling that will deprive the opposition of a large chunk of its support. The court gave no clear reasons for its decision to exclude 3.4 million citizens - more than 20% of the population - from the March 31 ballot, saying only that a legal appeal for inclusion "has no merit and should be dismissed". The chief justice, Godfrey Chidyausiku, issued the ruling in response to an application by seven Zimbabweans based in Britain challenging laws barring them from voting.
In general, the Zimbabwean diaspora is believed largely to support the main opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, which was defeated in disputed elections in June 2000 and March 2002. Beatrice Mtetwa, the lawyer for the group of British-based Zimbabweans seeking the vote, said that South Africa and many other African countries permitted expatriate citizens to vote in elections and the Zimbabweans wanted the same rights. She said her clients intend to lodge an appeal with the African Union's commission for human and people's rights. "We will call on the commission to pronounce that this ruling does not comply with the basic principles for free and fair elections," said Mrs Mtetwa. Another Zimbabwean lawyer, Daniel Molokele, based in Johannesburg, said: "It is a political judgement, plain and simple. It has no legal merits." The government maintains that the law only allows Zimbabweans serving in the army or on diplomatic postings to cast postal votes. The same rule was in force in previous elections. (The Guardian, London)

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