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By Fikile Mapala

ZIMBABWE’S electoral commission was deploying 90 000 polling officers, most of them teachers, to 8 998 polling stations around the country beginning Tuesday, setting the stage for watershed weekend elections.

Zimbabweans go to the polls on Saturday to elect a president, senators, parliamentarians and councillors in synchronised general elections.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) -- which has been accused by opposition parties and civic society groups of using a shambolic voters’ roll and military personnel to run the election -- said the majority of the polling officers were teachers.

The ZEC said it also recruited polling officers from other government departments and parastatals as available teachers fall short of the required manpower.

Chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana told reporters in Harare Monday that enough polling officers had been recruited to man close to 9 000 polling stations countrywide.

Silaigwana said: “The training of polling officers was done on Sunday and Monday at strategic centres around the country. We intend to deploy at least 10 polling officers to each of the 8 998 polling stations around the country by the end of day Thursday.”

He added: “You will notice that the majority of our polling and presiding officers are teachers. You will also discover that most polling stations are located at schools. All schools closed last Thursday for this purpose. We need the schools and the teachers during this election.”

The ZEC official also indicated that the commission would deploy its own election monitors, observers and supervisors before Friday who will work together with independent local and international monitors and observers.

Silaigwana said ZEC -- which has been accused of not having enough resources to run the mammoth election -- has set up a logistics committee to mobilise financial and material resources for the elections.

The committee comprises officials from the commission, CMED, Public Service Commission, National Oil Company of Zimbabwe, District Development Fund, Air Force of Zimbabwe and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

Fearing that the electoral commission may fail to pay its workers, the militant Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe last month urged its members not to be employed as polling officers unless if they assured of payment.

President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF government which is tittering on the brink of bankruptcy is reported to be failing to adequately fund the electoral commission ahead of the weekend polls.

Sources say Mugabe, 84, has since instructed the central bank to print more money to bankroll the polls as well as pay polling officers.

Zanu PF presidential candidate Mugabe --who has ruled the country since 1980 -- faces a stern challenge from opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai and independent presidential hopeful Simba Makoni.
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