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18 Feb 2008 17:28
Zimbabwe’s ruling party, shaken by internal divisions and a potentially strong election challenge to President Robert Mugabe, will expel candidates running against its official nominees in the March vote, the official media said on Monday.
An independent observer group, meanwhile, reported widespread attempts by Zanu-PF members to buy votes in the ruling party’s nominating contests before the March 29 presidential, parliamentary and local council elections.
Didymus Mutasa, a senior party official, said that in a number of key election districts more than one Zanu-PF candidate had registered to contest the same seat. Such duplicate registrations threaten to split the ruling-party vote to the benefit of the opposition.
“Given the large number of such cases, we will meet as a party and deliberate on how best we can deal with that,” Mutasa told the state Herald newspaper.
“Indiscipline can even be seen among senior party officials and that cannot be accepted,” he said, adding that candidates who refuse to withdraw will be kicked out of the party.
Former finance minister Simba Makoni upset Zanu-PF earlier this month by announcing that he was splitting from the party to stand against Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain 27 years ago and is blamed for plunging Zimbabwe into unprecedented economic crisis.
Makoni has called for other disillusioned members of the ruling party to stand under his banner as independent candidates.
In the town of Chinhoyi, north-west of Harare, witnesses said Makoni supporters were threatened by ruling-party militants as “traitors” in tense scenes at the town’s nomination court on Friday, when the election nomination process ended.
The court also accepted ruling-party nominations long after its official closing time but barred some independent and opposition hopefuls on the grounds that they were late, said witnesses who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. One independent who successfully registered fled his nearby home after it was raided by secret police agents of the state Central Intelligence Organization on Friday night, they said.
It was not clear exactly how many of Zimbabwe’s 210 constituency districts had rival Zanu-PF candidates, as details of nominations were still being compiled. But at least five ruling-party strongholds were affected.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an independent observer group, said in its latest bulletin on Monday that its observers countrywide have reported “widespread vote buying in Zanu-PF” in the party’s primary elections.
Many aspiring candidates are selling scarce commodities such as soap, cooking oil and sugar to the electorate at heavily discounted prices, it said.
Near the southern town of Masvingo, a government minister distributed free sports kit and money for school fees. A second minister allegedly promised voters scarce cellphone lines, the support group said.
It said the state Grain Marketing Board “played an active role in the campaigns”, using the corn meal staple to entice voters to support favoured ruling-party nominees. In western Zimbabwe, people attending a ruling-party rally received 50kg bags of corn meal while others were given 10kg bags of rice.
Observers also reported fraud in voter registration in some areas.
In one case, 50 ruling-party supporters were added to voters’ lists after being given a residential address that turned out to be a hair salon where no one lived, the bulletin said.
Elections since 2000 were all marred by violence, intimidation and allegations of vote rigging.—Sapa-AP
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