March 24, 2005

Electoral bodies under fire

Zimbabwe's electoral authorities have come under fire for practices that the opposition and an observer group claim could be used to rig the ballot. They cited as reasons for concern unmonitored voting by soldiers, the influence of traditional chiefs on voting and the fact that voters still were being registered, although voter registration officially ended on February 4. "There will be all sorts of tricks in this election if the past election is anything to go by," said David Coltart, legal director of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Officials of the MDC have confirmed that fewer incidents of violence have been reported in the run-up to this election. But they criticize that Electoral authorities were appointed by Mugabe, and soldiers were among staff running polling stations. Judge George Chiweshe, chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, was quoted in the weekly independent Financial Gazette as saying that the "the postal ballots have already been concluded". According to Zimbabwean law, the uniformed services need only to be monitored by "a competent witness".
In the first public indication of criticism by official observers, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, head of an observer delegation from the Southern African Development Community, said she was "not satisfied with the explanation of the authorities about constant complaints that Zanu PF had ensured that traditional chiefs would control voting queues at polling stations to ensure people voted for Zanu PF". Besides, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a private voluntary organisation, published a list of 25 polling stations which it said were situated at the homes of chiefs and in military bases. Accusations of illegal voter registration emerged, as the privately-owned Zimbabwe Independent said that the process was "in full swing in several centres around Harare". Registrar-general Tobaiwa Mudede said registration was "continuous and that those being registered now would not be allowed to vote. (News 24, South Africa)


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