6 March 2002

Mugabe's law bans votes for opposition

Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and civic groups have launched a last-minute bid to stop what they say is a full-scale attempt by President Mugabe's regime to "steal" presidential elections this weekend. At the same time, Mr Mugabe issued an edict yesterday to reinstate laws that will simplify vote-rigging by authorities and restrict scrutiny by monitors of the voting and counting procedures. The law was struck down by a court last week because it had been bulldozed illegally through Parliament. Another court ruling, to stop authorities from stripping non-citizens of the vote, was also overthrown by the edict. "It is a disgrace," advocate Adrian de Bourbon, the head of the Zimbabwe Bar Association, said. "It overrules the Supreme Court. The President is one of the candidates and he is changing the rules. It is breaking the law." David Coltart, the MDC legal director, said: "The aim is to rig the poll, it’s as simple as that."

Amid new signs of a strong surge of support for Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, particularly as food shortages bite, a barrage of confusing new electoral regulations has been rushed through by the government. "The process is opaque," Michael Davies, a civic leader, said. "It exposes how corrupt and venal the Registrar General’s office is. They have no intention of facilitating the democratic process, but only of undermining it." Diplomats say that Mr Mugabe is effecting a strategy to prevent a high turnout of voters in areas where Mr Tsvangirai is heavily supported, particularly in cities and towns. It is also targeting specific groups likely to support Mr Tsvangirai, such as whites and refugees, by denying them their right to vote. Authorities are refusing to issue a copy of the voters’ roll, while continuing to register new voters in strongholds of the ruling Zanu PF party, according to opposition officials.

Tobaiwa Mudede, the Registrar-General, ordered voter registration to close in October. "The reports came in that they were still registering people," Mr Coltart said. "Suddenly we see there is a proclamation last week that voter registration had been extended to March 3. Of course they are registering Zanu PF. It’s been going on in the northeast of the country (the ruling party’s heartland). No one is being registered in the south." Soldiers and police all over the country are being ordered to vote by postal ballots, even though most of them are serving in areas where they are registered to vote, he said. "We have affidavits from officers that each police station in the country has been given a list of all police officers on the voters’ roll," Mr Coltart said. "They are being called in and told to apply for a postal ballot and they then have to vote in the presence of their commanding officer, without any secrecy. It’s exactly the same in the army."

An appeal against these moves was made in the Supreme Court yesterday. The action was also attempting to block the office of the Registrar-General from effecting a radical redistribution of polling stations that will heavily favour Mr Mugabe. The number of polling stations in urban areas, where Mr Tsvangirai draws most of his support, have been drastically reduced to the point where they will be incapable of handling a heavy turnout. The number of rural polling stations have been increased. Mr Mudede said on state television last week that the new distribution provided 40-50 polling stations in each constituency. Yet in the Harare constituency of Hatfield, there are only four. The most any constituency in the capital has is 13. "In many instances its going to be physically impossible to process voting for the people who turn up," said Bev Clark, head of a charity that has been lobbying for voters’ rights. There is also evidence of widespread removal of likely MDC voters from the roll. Last month an MDC council candidate collected the signatures of ten supporters, needed to endorse his nomination. All of them had previously checked their names were on the voters’ roll. When the list was handed in, the names of all ten had been removed from the Registrar-General’s copy of the new, and unpublished, voters’ roll. (The Times, UK)


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