Zimbabwe: MDC asks High Court to postpone local elections

JOHANNESBURG, 25 September (IRIN) - Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has asked the Harare High Court to postpone this weekend's local elections on the grounds that the government has not complied with the Electoral Act.
"They still haven't supplied us with the voter's role [an MDC request after the March Presidential election], the Electoral Supervisory Commission [ESC] is improperly constituted and there is no impartial presiding officer," David Coltart, MDC legal affairs director, told IRIN on Wednesday.

This Saturday and Sunday candidates will contest elections for rural district councils and a by-election in Hurungwe, in the north of the country.

Coltart said the party would lodge a separate application to the High Court alleging that many MDC candidates were prevented from registering through "intimidation and spurious bureaucratic obstacles".

He said about 690 candidates had registered to stand for the elections, but about another 700 MDC candidates had been turned away.

Thomas Bvuma, a spokesman for the ESC said the commission had, so far, not received any official complaints of intimidation, and that the process of nominating candidates had now closed.

He told IRIN that election observers would be drawn from various civic organisations with monitors coming from the ESC. There would be no international observers.

Government-linked political violence has marred elections in Zimbabwe since the emergence of the MDC. In March, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth over the presidential poll which was deemed as not free and unfair.

The European Union and the United States have imposed a travel ban and a freeze on assets of ministers in protest over the government's human rights violations.

Meanwhile, MDC shadow agriculture minister Renson Gasela has denied that an unsuccessful attempt to import 102 mt (2,000 bags) of maize for drought-relief was a pre-election political move.

The maize was stopped at the South African border on Sunday as it did not have the necessary import permit. Only the Department of Agriculture and the government-controlled Grain Marketing Board can issue permits for maize imports.

Gasela said the MDC's Feed Zimbabwe Trust (FZT) had planned to hand the maize over to a church group for distribution as its contribution to drought-relief efforts.

The party would not apply for a permit, he said, as it believed the government should relax import restrictions during the current food crisis which threatens 6.7 million people.

"The GMB has failed to make enough food available in the country and the FZT and any other people should be allowed to play a part in bringing food to starving people," Gasela said.

"The government has been asked by the World Food Programme and the UN Development Programme to relax regulations on food imports and let the private sector play a part," he added.

But, according to Regis Chikowra of the Department of Information, "one of the reasons [for import and export permits] is to safeguard the interests of the consumer in terms of genetically modified grain and in terms of scarce commodities - that they are not spirited out of the country when they are needed here."

A Beitbridge border official told IRIN: "We control imports irrespective of the importer. When we receive their permit, we will smilingly release their maize."

However, even if the maize did cross the border, the MDC would face another obstacle - only seven NGOs which are registered with the government can distribute food aid.


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