20 June 2008

Zimbabwe: Police Forced to Vote for Mugabe

Harare — POLICE officers were this week reportedly forced to cast their postal ballots in favour of President Robert Mugabe in a bid to secure a head start for the veteran leader ahead of Friday's presidential run-off against the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai won the first round of voting on March 29 with 48% of the votes, against Mugabe's 43%.

Impeccable sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that apart from police officers, members of the army and the prison service were expected to vote for Mugabe through the same system before the postal ballot boxes are sealed today.

Zimbabwe is estimated to have a combined 100 000 members of the police, army and prison service.

The sources said the police officers voted at various stations throughout the country, among them Ross Camp in Bulawayo, Harare Central's Provincial Conference centre and at all stations in Kwekwe.

The officers, the sources said, voted in front of their superiors and the voting process was done in the absence of Mugabe and Tsvangirai's election agents or observers.

In Harare on Wednesday, the sources said, Senior Assistant Commissioner Fortune Zengeni and Assistant Commissioner Thomsen Jangara supervised the voting.

"The officers were provided with the presidential ballot papers," a senior police officer said. "They voted in front of Zengeni and Jangara before they placed the ballots into envelopes and into the ballot boxes."

The officer said Sadc observers who visited Harare Central on Wednesday to witness the voting process were turned away.

"The observers were told that no election was taking place," another source said. "The voting took place in an intimidatory environment. It was not free and fair."

Postal voting in Bulawayo and other areas throughout the country took place last week.

Teams of senior police officers were reportedly dispatched to provinces at the beginning of this month where they told members of the uniformed forces, their spouses and adult children that they should vote for Mugabe to avoid war.

In an internal memorandum dated June 3 in the possession of the Zimbabwe Independent, Kwekwe police command instructed all officers in charge in the district to ensure that their juniors participated in postal voting.

"Details who applied for postal ballots must be on standby as the ballot papers may arrive any time and voting may be at short notice," read the memorandum. "OICs (officers in charge) are advised to inform their ...members to make themselves available when required to. All details leaving the station must book in the charge office diary and make their whereabouts known."

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission deputy chief elections officer (operations) Utoile Silaigwana did not respond to written questions he asked for from the Independent.

Wayne Bvudzijena, the national police spokesperson, last night could not take questions saying he was in a meeting.

The MDC this week filed an application with the High Court challenging the postal voting process, which it claimed Mugabe wanted to use to rig the presidential election run-off.

Meanwhile, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday said her government remained very concerned about the crisis in Zimbabwe.

"We're concerned for the people of Zimbabwe. We're concerned for the people of the region, because (of), obviously, the refugee flow, the violence that has been a part of this crisis," Rice said. "We're very concerned about the elections and we're trying to support the efforts of regional organisations to ensure free and fair elections, but it's very difficult when you have the kind of intimidation that is going on now in Zimbabwe."

She said it was time for leaders of Africa to tell Mugabe that Zimbabwe deserves a free and fair election.

"(In a free and fair election) you cannot intimidate opponents, you cannot put opponents in jail, you cannot threaten them with charges of treason and be respected in the international community. And I think that's a strong message, and I hope it'll be delivered," she added.

Rice was speaking after meeting Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga who had visited the US.

Odinga said Zimbabwe "remains an eyesore on the African continent".

"It is a big embarrassment that a leader can say on the eve of an election that he's not willing to hand over power to an opponent, and he can only hand over power to a member of his own political party," Odinga said. "I think this is an embarrassment to Africa because it makes a sham of the presidential elections."

He said it was time the international community acted on Zimbabwe.

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