Saturday, March 22, 2008

ZIMBABWE: Police in polling booths can intimidate voters, say NGOs

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: ZIMBABWE: Police in polling booths can intimidate voters,
say NGOs
Date: Thu, 20 Mar 2008 14:38:28 -0000
From: IRIN <>
To: RE Ausetkmt <>

ZIMBABWE: Police in polling booths can intimidate voters, say NGOs

HARARE, 20 March 2008 (IRIN) - Zimbabwean police can now access polling
stations, according to recent changes made to the electoral law. This
could intimidate voters, say concerned civil society groups. General
elections are scheduled to be held in Zimbabwe on 29 March.

The Electoral Act was amended to allow police and electoral officials to
assist illiterate and physically incapacitated voters, according to the
official daily newspaper, The Herald. Before the amendment, police
officials were only allowed up to 100m of a polling station.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), an electoral monitoring
organisation, told IRIN the new regulations would undermine voters'
confidence in the electoral process.

"Further, voters requiring assistance to cast their ballots should be
able to designate a person of their choice to help them mark their
ballot," said Noel Kututwa, ZESN chairman.

Munashe Gore, an activist who advocates for the rights of the physically
handicapped, said he would not cast his vote in the presence of
electoral officials and the police. "I have always relied on my
assistant who knows almost all my secrets. I would only be happy for him
to assist me with the voting exercise. I am therefore not going to vote
because I do not want to endanger myself because I support the opposition."

The government however maintained that the police were being allowed
into the polling station to protect the electorate. "We have to protect
our voters from saboteurs," said Zimbabwean Information Minister
Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, and dismissed the ZESN as "part of the opposition
attempting to denigrate the government."

The amendments to the electoral law were designed to "intimidate"
voters, according to Lovemore Madhuku, chairman of the National
Constitutional Assembly, a consortium of Zimbabwe's civic groups.

A faction of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic
Change, described the changes to the electoral law as "an assault" on
the Southern African Development Community (SADC) political process led
by South African President Thabo Mbeki, who was mandated by the SADC in
March 2007 to find a solution to Zimbabwe's economic and political crisis.

Zimbabwe is suffering from the world's highest inflation rate, of around
100,000 percent. The government blames sanctions imposed by some western
countries for its economic problems.

Free and fair?

The SADC team in Zimbabwe said it had found the conditions on the ground
were conducive to the holding of free and fair elections. "The
administrative arms of government are all working, everybody who is
supposed to contribute to the election is doing his or her duties
unhindered," Jose Marcos Barrica, Angola's Minister of Youth, Sport and
Culture and head of the SADC observer mission told the local media

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report released this week claimed
restrictions on campaigning, flawed electoral procedures, the
politicisation of the distribution of agricultural equipment and food,
an overwhelmingly pro-government media bias, arrests, and intimidation
of the opposition precluded the possibility of holding free and fair

"This is just a lie - total lie," commented Ndlovu, Zimbabwe's
information minister. "We are a respectable country - we are a sovereign
state and we uphold human rights - what right does anyone from outside
have to question us?

"We have an extremely peaceful atmosphere here," he added. "In fact, the
opposition has been tearing down the ruling party's posters down. There
is no intimidation. If anyone is facing problems they should come to me,
it is my job as the information minister to protect everyone."

The HRW report urged SADC in particular, to "evaluate the political
context in which these elections are being held as well as the electoral
process as a
whole, and should promptly and unequivocally condemn serious breaches of
international and regional standards".

SADC, it said should ensure that there are "consequences" for the
government of Zimbabwe if it again flouts its international commitment
to hold free and fair elections. Another round of flawed elections
should not be seen as "business as usual" in relations between the SADC
and the government of Zimbabwe.


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