Zim govt rubbishes vote-rigging claims

Zimbabwe’s justice minister has dismissed as “utter rubbish” claims by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that the political playing field is uneven ahead of national polls.

Zimbabweans are preparing to elect a new president, Parliament and local councillors on March 29, but the MDC has expressed fears of vote rigging.

“They [MDC] are preparing the ground to explain their defeat,” Patrick Chinamasa charged during a lengthy interview on state television late on Tuesday.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai last week accused the Zimbabwe government of printing nine million ballot papers for only 5,9-million registered voters.

The veteran opposition leader, who is challenging President Robert Mugabe for the second time since disputed polls in 2002, also accused the veteran leader of abuse of power.

He said Mugabe’s decision to amend electoral laws to allow police officers into polling stations—ostensibly to assist illiterate or disabled people to vote—could be a ploy to intimidate voters.

“He [Tsvangirai] is participating under the clear understanding that the political playing field is level,” Chinamasa insisted.

Chinamasa dismissed claims by the MDC and human rights groups that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is biased in favour of Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party.

He said the commission was the product of dialogue between the two parties.

“They’ve got members who are there [on the commission] who are MDC members,” said Chinamasa, accusing the MDC of “nit-picking”.

The minister also dismissed dire forecasts that political tensions in Zimbabwe between Zanu-PF and the MDC could erupt into violence similar to that which followed Kenya’s disputed elections. He said an uprising in Zimbabwe was a “pipedream” of media hostile to the Harare government.

“The majority [in the country] cannot revolt against itself. There will be no violence,” Chinamasa said. “MDC will be wiped out politically.”

A recent opinion poll gave Tsvangirai an 8% lead over Mugabe with 28,3% of votes. Mugabe garnered 20,3% and independent presidential candidate Simba Makoni took just 8,6%.

Police won’t comment on pilot’s arrest

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean police would not comment on why South African pilot Brent Smyth was arrested during a series of flights chartered to ferry Tsvangirai to the last rallies of his election campaign.

“We will issue a statement at 2pm, I cannot give you anything,” spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena told the South African Press Association on Wednesday.

Smyth’s fiance said he had sent her an SMS early on Thursday to say that he had been removed from the Harare central police station and was being taken to another venue for questioning.

Drieksie Janse van Rensburg said: “Naturally I am worried. I have no idea why he was arrested.”

“We spoke to the Civil Aviation Authority in Zimbabwe and they said all his documents were up to date and immigration said there was no problem.”

She added that Smyth has citizenship in South Africa, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

However, Smyth’s clearance permit to be in the country had expired at midnight on Wednesday, while he was in custody.

MDC treasurer Roy Bennett said Smyth could possibly be deported.

This meant that Tsvangirai would have to skip a number of rallies in key rural areas, adversely affecting his campaigning.

“But he is trying to get out as best he can,” said Bennett. - Sapa, Sapa-DPA



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