/ 29 March 2008

Observers allege fraud in Zim poll

Voting ended peacifully in Zimbabwe on Saturday at most polling stations around the country at 7pm local time as expected, with a few incidences of violence reported in the capital, Harare, and Matabeleland.

Thousands queued from early morning to vote in the most crucial election since independence in 1980, the majority of them desperate to end the misery of economic collapse under the leadership of Zanu-PF.

African observers charged late on Saturday that they had discovered fraudulent voters’ rolls in the Zimbabwe election, listing more than 8 000 apparently non-existent people.

Marwick Khumalo, head of the Pan-African Parliament, said that in one Harare constituency, ”It has been brought to our attention that out of the 24 678 registered voters, more than 8 450 have been registered under block 081083 … which is a deserted land with a few scattered wooden sheds.”

In a letter to the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission (ZEC) seen by journalists, he said 70 more people were registered under another empty piece of land in the same area.

”Taking into account that there have been a lot of complaints from opposition political parties regarding the fact that the ZEC has printed approximately 50% more ballot papers than the number of registered voters, the mission would like to request that ZEC clarifies these claims at the earliest of its convenience,” he said.

ZEC officials were not, however, immediately available for comment.

Tendai Biti, secretary general of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said the party had also found ”ghost voters” in an area of Harare.

Biti had earlier charged that President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party planned systematic fraud to keep him in power, including multiple voting by his supporters.

Biti also said the MDC was confident that it had won the election despite clear indications that the ruling party was planning to rig the vote. ”There is absolutely no doubt we have won this election,” he said.

Verification of the ballot papers started immediately after the poll closed, with counting expected to follow at polling stations around the country.

Police have banned all political parties from announcing election results, saying they should leave it to Zimbabwe Election Commission officials, but the MDC said it would announce results as they arrived at a press conference for early on Sunday.

Low turnout

Turnout in parts of the country appeared low, according to polling officers, but participation figures were not immediately available. About 5,9-million voters were eligible to pick a president as well as members of the National Assembly and nearly 2 000 local councils.

Mugabe, who has ruled the former British colony uninterrupted since independence in 1980, is up against former finance minister Simba Makoni and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The MDC said on Saturday afternoon that there were insufficient presidential ballot papers in some constituencies in Manicaland. ”I have received reports that presidential ballot papers have run out at a polling station in Mount Dzuma and in wards 29 and 30 of Makoni South,” said MDC official Itai Marombedza.

Moffat Masabeya, the provincial elections officer, was not immediately available for comment.

Mugabe said on Saturday he would accept the results even if he is defeated.

Counting was to start at polling stations minutes after their closure and partial results were expected to start trickling in shortly after counting ended.

Voting for change

Many voters said they wanted a new government.

”I am voting for change. I am praying for a free and fair election. It is the only way this country can move forward,” said Richard Mutedzi (25), a trained mechanic who voted in Chitungwiza, 30km south of Harare. He said he was forced to sell odds and ends because of lack of work.

Despite the odds stacked against Mugabe (84), many analysts believe he will be declared the victor.

The president oozed his usual confidence when he voted in Harare on Saturday. ”We will succeed. We will conquer,” he said, denying that he planned to steal the vote. ”Why should I cheat? The people are there supporting us. The moment the people stop supporting you, then that’s the moment you should quit politics,” he said.

Mother of three Gertrude Muzanenhamo (36) voted early in the poor township of Warren Park, telling reporters: ”People are dying in hospitals and funeral expenses are very high. How do you expect us to survive? Shop shelves are empty.”

Sagodolu Sikhosana, a rural villager in the opposition stronghold of Matabeleland, said after voting: ”Things have been too hard for too long. I think now there needs to be a change and they need to take us more seriously.”

Voting was largely peaceful but police said a bomb exploded in the house of a ruling-party candidate in Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold. No one was hurt.

”I can’t say Zimbabweans are cowards or that they are cautious. They are peace-loving people, but if Mugabe steals the election, there will surely be trouble in this country,” red-eyed Leo Kariwo said as he waited to vote in a Harare township.

For the presidential race, if no candidate wins more than 51% of the vote on Saturday, the election will go into a second round, where the two opposition parties would likely unite.

The winner

Meanwhile, in South Africa, Tsvangirai romped to victory when he won the Zimbabwe presidential elections, albeit mock, held in Johannesburg on Saturday.

The MDC leader was the runaway winner after polling 133 votes against Mugabe, who garnered a mere five votes. Makoni registered three votes.

Zimbabwe Revolutionary Youth Movement president Simon Mudekwa said that out of the 155 ballot papers, only nine were spoilt, while 15 non-Zimbabweans who wanted to vote were turned away.

The movement, together with the South African Communist Party Congress of South African Trade Unions and African National Congress, supervised the Zimbabwe diaspora mock elections in South Africa.

Counting ended at 6.45pm, after which a few hundred Zimbabweans wildly celebrated Tsvangirai’s victory.

The mock elections, which were held under free and fair conditions, were held in protest against the Mugabe regime’s refusing millions of Zimbabweans in the diaspora to cast their vote in Saturday’s ”real” elections. — Reuters, AFP, CAJ News