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High Voter Turn-out in Zimbabwe Creates Poll Problems

by Kondwane Chirambo , Jean Chimhandamba and Hugh McCullum

Harare, 24 June 2000

The first day of Zimbabwe’s parliamentary election opened peacefully under dull skies with long queues at most of the country’s 4,100 polling stations.

Voters grumbled at their slow and laborious movement through the polls - many were in queues more than five hours -while serious confusion was found at every station over the accreditation of Zimbabwean election monitors.

Late Friday, the Registrar-General’s office increased the number of monitors per poll from one to four but the information had not filtered down to most presiding officers by the end of the first day.

The monitors, wearing bright yellow vests stamped “Electoral Supervisory Commission” could be seen hanging around every polling station visited, awaiting the accreditation tags, which would admit them to monitor the polls.

A number of polling officials said they were unaware of yesterday’s last-minute decision to increase the monitors while others could not explain the 24-hour delay in accreditation. The monitors represented church, human rights and civil society groups.

Mostly young people, the potential monitors had been at their stations since polls opened at 7 a.m. and by the end of the day, still keen to participate, were hopeful their accreditation would come through.

Monitors from the Micro-Empowerment (MET) Foundation, the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) were kept more than 100 metres from one polling station in Mbare East Constituency for lack of accreditation.

The only monitor allowed in was from the Southern African Human Rights Documentation Trust. At Prince Edward School in Harare Central Constituency, the registrar was trying to calm a group of six monitors from the NCA, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) and MET Foundation.

“I have not heard of the order to increase the number of monitors to four but if that is the case then, I think the monitors can decide amongst themselves who will go in”, the officer said. The station had a single monitor from the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ).

“We have phoned the chief coordinator (of NCA) so this can be sorted out. We have been told to stay outside,” moaned Harrison Nkomo, one of the NCA monitors.

The situation was the same in most Harare Constituencies as impatient monitors waited for the promised accreditation cards to materialize later in the day. Jane Mawema of the CCJP complained that they had already missed a whole day of monitoring even if they were to be finally accredited later in the day.

Party agents were present in the stations, but mainly those representing ZANU-PF and MDC. A total of 15 parties are contesting the polls, although only two are given any real chance of making a difference.

Meanwhile queues in rural areas, high and low density suburbs were uniformly long and the process of casting ballots slow. Queues often stretched several blocks and voter patience was wearing thin after hours standing in chilly weather outside schools and other polling sites.

“People are in a voting mood today,” said Maxwell Sunduza, presiding officer at George Stark High School in Mbare East Constituency.

Inside the voting stations, officials were strict in checking voter credentials, which also slowed the process.

Voters in high-density areas such as Chitungwiza came to the poll in hordes and soon began complaining that the government had far too few polling stations for those who wanted to vote.

The MDC candidate for Harare Central, Mike Auret who was talking to monitors who had been ordered by the presiding officer to stay outside the polling station, said, “the process is being so rushed and confused and I’m not surprised. It’s untrustworthy; you can’t believe anything that is being said. However, it’s going much better than I expected.”

There were no reported signs of violence or intimidation and serious police presence was evident at all stations.

Two Commonwealth observers at Ardbennie Primary School in Mbare East said the system seemed to be working well “although the process is very slow”, said Senator Sandy MacDonald of Australia and Zippy Ojago of Kenya.

President Robert Mugabe, leader of ZANU-PF voted at his old home in the Harare high-density suburb of Highfields about noon. Mugabe is not seeking personal election since his term does not expire until 2002. The main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) voted in Buhera Centre in Buhera North Constituency where he faces a tough battle with a cousin, Kenneth Manyonda, ZANU-PF governor of Manicaland province, an appointed MP in the last Parliament.

There are 5.1 million eligible voters who can vote for candidates in 120 constituencies choosing from among 15 political parties and 91 independents. However, only ZANU-PF and MDC has fielded a full slate of electoral contestants.

Polls close at 7 p.m. today, reopen Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and vote counting begins Monday morning. Results are expected Monday night (SARDC).

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