Zimbabwe police, soldiers cast contested votes

Zimbabwe will hold presidential and parliamentary elections and police chiefs have been campaigning for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangvirai's arch-rival, President Robert Mugabe, telling rank-and-file to vote for the veteran leader and his Zanu-PF party.

Tsvangvirai's Movement for Democratic Change says junior officers were threatened by superiors to rally behind Mugabe, a charge dismissed by the police. Mugabe (89) has been in power for 33 years and long criticised by political rivals and the West for perceived authoritarianism.

While so far largely peaceful, the election process has been criticised as disorganised, under-funded and plagued by irregularities.

The state electoral commission says 69 000 police officers, 2 000 prison officers, 164 soldiers and thousands of election officials were taking part in a two-day special vote starting on Sunday.

The MDC has queried the police figures and the high court will on Monday hear a request by the party to stop the voting.

The MDC says only 41 133 members of the police are eligible to vote, according to a Ministry of Finance salary schedule.

In 2008, police, soldiers and prison officials were forced to vote in front of their superiors in barracks and camps, but are now casting ballots in public polling centres monitored by all political parties and foreign observers.

Police officers could be seen at voting centres in the capital Harare queuing patiently to cast their votes.

Tsvangirai, making his third attempt to end Mugabe's long grip on power, says nothing has been set in place to ensure a vote fairer than previous elections.

Tsvangirai, who tried in vain to have the next election delayed, said Zanu-PF was using bureaucratic obstacles and tricks such as keeping dead people on the electoral roll to try perpetuate itself in power. – Reuters


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