Zimbabwe: Opposition cries foul over local elections

JOHANNESBURG, 27 September (IRIN) - Zimbabweans are scheduled to return to the polls this weekend to vote for district councils whose tasks include the delivery of local services and overseeing the distribution of food aid.
However, there were two last minute court challenges by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Friday, aimed at postponing the poll, and protecting ballot papers from the March presidential election from being destroyed.

On Thursday, Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede applied successfully to the High Court to re-use election boxes from the March election on the grounds that the government did not have money to buy new ones.

The ballot papers inside the boxes are the subject of an MDC court application, which resumes in November, challenging President Robert Mugabe's defeat of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

MDC legal affairs director David Coltart told IRIN on Friday that in terms of Mudede's ruling, the MDC was supposed to have witnessed the removal of the ballot papers to secure storage, but had not been informed of the venue or time of the opening of the boxes. A letter to the government setting a Friday noon deadline for the information had not received a response, he said.

"They can't break the seal unless we are present," Coltart said.

He added that it was not necessary to re-use the boxes as there were still enough empty boxes left over from the 5,000 prepared for the March election.

He said the MDC had earlier this month launched an urgent application to protect the old ballot papers after "getting wind that the government wanted to destroy them".

An analyst from the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa (EISA)said that the Electoral Act did allow ballot boxes to be destroyed after six months, but in this case it would be "destroying evidence the MDC might need to prove the elections were rigged".

"It won't be in the interests of democracy," Claude Kabemba, a senior policy analyst with the EISA told IRIN.

The second court application by the MDC, to have the election postponed, was because it said almost 700 of its candidates had allegedly been prevented from registering by "spurious bureaucracy".

The MDC has accused the ruling ZANU-PF of using political violence, particularly in the rural areas, to intimidate its candidates from standing.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa has rejected the allegations. He reportedly said the MDC was to blame for not finding candidates for the council polls.

The Electoral Supervisory Commission said earlier this week that it had not received an official complaint from the MDC. It said that 1,394 candidates had initially registered, but many had since withdrawn and the exact number of candidates was not immediately known.

The MDC has also demanded a copy of the voters roll, which it should have received under the terms of the Electoral Act. But this case would only be heard on Tuesday, after the election. The party had not yet received a copy for the March election either.


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