Zimbabwe: Vote Rigging Fears Mount

FEARS of possible vote rigging have emerged following the rolling out of a voter registration exercise by the Registrar General (RG)'s Office that appears to favour one of the main parties in the inclusive government, in what could mark the genesis of another disputed poll, investigations by The Financial Gazette have revealed.

As the country prepares for make-or-break elections later this year, the RG's Office, headed by Tobaiwa Mudede, rolled out a mobile voter registration exercise late last month which is expected to end on Saturday next week. But already, there are concerns that the exercise could be a harbinger for another contested electoral outcome because of the manner it is being conducted.

Parties in the inclusive government had agreed, as part of the election roadmap, that voter registration would be done after the new constitution has come into effect but the exercise opened before Parliament could debate the Constitutional Bill. The legislature was yesterday expected to debate the Bill, nearly two weeks after voter registration had started.

There are also concerns that there are more voter registration units in rural areas that are ZANU-PF strongholds, as compared to urban areas where the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) headed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai enjoys overwhelming support.

The process has also run into logistical problems due to inadequate funding after ZANU-PF frustrated efforts by the unity government to source poll funding from the United Nations Development Programme as a way of avoiding scrutiny of the country's electoral systems by the outside world. Treasury has so far released US$4 million out of the budgeted US$8 million, which was in itself inadequate for such a mammoth exercise.

Of major concern to ZANU-PF's rivals is that the new draft constitution stipulates that voter registration must start and run for 30 days only after its adoption, but this has been rushed with the potential of disenfranchising thousands of people such as the so-called aliens who stand to benefit from the negotiated new charter.

Since 2002, Zimbabweans whose roots can be traced to neighbouring countries such as Zambia and Malawi have been denied the vote, but the new constitution restores their right to vote once President Robert Mugabe signs it into law after adoption by Parliament.

Part three of the new constitution's sixth schedule says: "for the purpose of the first elections (after the inclusive government) the Registrar General of voters, under the supervision of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, must conduct a special and intensive voter registration and a voters' roll inspection exercise for at least 30 days after the publication day (of the new constitution.)"

The current exercise is being undertaken for only three weeks.

Critics have also raised dust over a requirement that villagers must have letters written by traditional leaders vouching that they belong in their jurisdiction. This has created problems as sometimes the latter's discretion is abused for personal or political reasons.

ZANU-PF has, however, dismissed assertions that it stands to benefit from the current voter registration. The party's spokesperson, Rugare Gumbo, said the MDC formations were only making the allegations after realising that they do not have any support from the people.

Gumbo said the exercise was being done by the RG's Office under the aegis of the Zimb-abwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), hence the revolutionary party had nothing to do with it.

"As a party, we are satisfied with the process. It's going on well. We have no qualms," said Gumbo.

But Anglistone Sibanda, a political analyst, said there appears to be a deliberate plot to alienate urban voters: Even when it comes to awareness, people in rural areas were more informed about the electoral processes than those in urban areas.

"The people living in the urban areas are not aware that there is such a process; the main focus of the process seems to be rural areas where ZANU-PF is stronger and this will result in the low urban participation," reasoned Sibanda. "In the rural areas, information has been disseminated through local government structures that are controlled by ZANU-PF as they have used the chiefs and headmen to mobilise people to vote, while information in the urban areas is very scarce whereas in the city centres State-owned newspapers have been silent on the national process that is currently taking place."

ZANU-PF's rivals warned this week that the voter registration exercise in its current form, has the potential of handing Zimbabwe another illegitimate government whose isolation may plunge the country back into the crisis of the last decade.

The shambolic nature of the registration exercise was one of the issues raised by the MDC formations when they met South African President Jacob Zuma's facilitation team in Harare last week at a meeting boycotted by ZANU-PF representatives.

On Tuesday, Edwin Mushoriwa, the deputy president of the Welshman Ncube-led MDC, said his party was hopeful that Zuma, as the facilitator of the local dialogue, would intervene.

"We feel that this process is not above board. We raised this with the facilitation team and we hope that the facilitator would be seized with the matter," he said.

"When we go for polls, there should be a winner who emerges from an undisputed outcome. We want the process to be as good as possible."

MDC99 leader, Job Sikhala, said in some rural areas potential voters were being shepherded to registration centres, sometimes in truckloads and lorries by aspiring ZANU-PF candidates.

"At present, there is unusual high number of registration centres in certain constituencies especially in rural areas. The number of voter registration centres in the rural areas is astonishingly high as compared to urban constituencies," said Sikhala.

In a statement, the MDC-T alleged that the ZANU- PF machinery was out in full force to stop other people from registering during the current exercise. There were complaints from the MDC-T's provinces, including Mashonaland West, which is also President Mugabe's home province.

On Tuesday, the MDC-T's national executive member res-ponsible for Mashonaland West province, Charlton Hwende told The Financial Gazette that as of Monday this week there was no mobile voter registration in Chinhoyi.

He said investigations by the party showed that more than 500 people queuing for Identity Documents were turned away from the Chinhoyi Registry, oste-nsibly because the RG's 'authorising license had expired' and had to wait for a new license from Harare.

"As Mashonaland West province, we would like to completely reject the ongoing chaotic and purposeless mobile voter registration exercise, which is clearly designed to rig the process in favour of ZANU-PF. Scores of our people have been turned away for failure to produce documents, which the mobile teams are supposed to issue in the first place as per cabinet directive," he said.

"Chiefs and headmen are still denying people proof of residence but still giving the same to ZANU-PF supporters. We therefore call on the Minister of Finance (Tendai Biti) to immediately stop disbursement of funds until all parties have agreed on a transparent and fair mobile registration process."

At a press conference yesterday, ZEC chairperson, Justice Rita Makarau said the commisssion fully endorses the process rolled out by the RG's Office. She said all complaints should be directed to the commission.

"ZEC is satisfied with the progress achieved by the exercise to date. A total of 29 940 new voters have been registered since the commencement of the process," she said.

She however, revealed that only US$500 000 had been redeemed by Treasury, not the reported US$4 million.

Zimbabwe has a history of disputed polls that plunged the country into an economic and political crisis, but a unity government established in 2009 prevented a further downward spiral.

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