|7 March 2002
More questions than answers on Zimbabwe poll
With only three days to go before Zimbabweans vote to elect their
president, organisers were still unable yesterday to give basic details of how
the election will be conducted. At a briefing for foreign election observers
and the media, questions rained down on Sobuza Gula-Ndebele, a retired army
colonel who chairs the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), but time after
time he was unable to give an answer. The opposition Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC) and foreign critics accuse President Robert Mugabe, 78, of trying
to rig the election, in which he faces his toughest challenge since he became
leader after independence from Britain in 1980.
Sobuza Gula-Ndebele and other key electoral officials could not say how
many ballot papers had been printed for the weekend presidential poll. Mystery
surrounded the number of soldiers and policemen who have already cast their
votes by postal ballot - an exercise which had not been made public until a
report in a pro-opposition newspaper this week. "Some have voted but it is a
minute number," Gula-Ndebele answered when asked by a Commonwealth observer
who, if anybody, had monitored the voting by security forces. "How many?" asked
the observer. "Not many," he replied. Nor was light shed on the exact location
of 4 548 polling stations and when voters lists would be made public.
Mugabes rival, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, says the campaign has been
marred by systematic intimidation and cheating but insists he will win anyway.
Most of the 500 accredited foreign observers are from Africa. Zimbabwe has
excluded others from Britain, the European Union and the United States.
The ESC briefing, whose members were all appointed by Mugabe, clearly
left many observers dissatisfied. "I have a problem. I dont think as the
supervisor of an election that is only a couple of days away you can tell
people "I dont know" Martha Sayed of Botswanas Independent
Electoral Commission said. "There is no way you can say at this stage that you
dont know how many ballot papers have been printed." When that question
was asked, Simon Muchemenyi, representing Zimbabwes Registrar-General,
replied: "I dont have the exact figure but it is enough to cater for the
needs." Norways senior observer, Kare Vollan, asked several questions
which received no complete answers. "We are not sure what the bottleneck is,"
Gula-Ndebele said when pressed on the tiny number of accredited local
observers. The opposition says the government is limiting the number to
obstruct transparency in the voting.
A US diplomat, who wanted to know when the 5.6 million voters would
learn exactly where they were registered to vote, was told that under
Zimbabwean law this information could be published as late as Saturday, the
first day of balloting. Gula-Ndebele sought to counter the sceptical tone of
much of the questioning, saying that despite their high standard of education
Zimbabweans were often distrustful of each other. "There are no secrets and
tricks about this election," he said. It was also learnt last night that Mugabe
had invalidated a Supreme Court ruling last week which struck down the
governments legislation which barred independent monitors from checking
the validity of the vote. Mugabe announced further changes to the Electoral Act
which gives the ESC power to ban voters who renounced Zimbabwean citizenship
but retained permanent residences. The Financial Gazette