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By Fikile Mapala

FIVE officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) – the body in charge of the March 29 general elections – have been arrested and charged with tampering with President Robert Mugabe’s election figures.

The ZEC, under pressure from Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF party, has withheld results from the presidential elections, despite announcing results for Parliament (Zanu PF 99, MDC Tsvangirai 99, MDC Mutambara 10, Independent 1) and Senate (Zanu PF 30, MDC Tsvangirai 24, MDC Mutambara 6).

The ZEC officials were arrested in Masvingo, Manicaland and Mashonaland Central provinces, police confirmed.

Zanu PF officials claim Mugabe was prejudiced of 4 993 votes cast in at least four constituencies in the key elections because of under-counting or misrepresentation of figures by election officials.

Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena confirmed the arrests, saying the five officials would be charged with fraud and or criminal abuse of duty.

Bvudzijena said: “Five ZEC officials have been arrested so far in three provinces. The arrests arose from inconsistencies between figures recorded at polling centres, constituency centres and those which were forwarded to the national command centre.”

Bvudzijena told New that the suspects were currently in police custody in their respective stations, awaiting prosecution while further investigations continue.

Zanu PF has since approached the Electoral Court challenging results in 16 constituencies. The party is also demanding a recount of the presidential ballot.

Bvudzijena revealed that police were carrying out investigations in several other constituencies across the country where it is alleged that Mugabe was prejudiced of votes.

Zanu PF officials claim that the party’s elections directorate has unearthed “gross anomalies” in Mashonaland Central, Matabeleland North and Mashonaland East constituencies.

Similar cases of electoral fraud in Mugabe’s home area in Zvimba North constituency are also being investigated, police said, vowing to “arrest and prosecute all election officials who deliberately tampered with poll figures.”

State media reported at the weekend that at Rimbi Primary School, a polling station in Manicaland, the V11 form posted outside the polling station after the elections showed that Mugabe got 612 votes but the V23 form that was forwarded to the national command centre shows that Mugabe received 187 votes, prejudicing the Zanu PF candidate of 425 votes at once.

ZEC spokesman Shupikai Mashereni refused to comment on the matter saying it was “premature” to talk to the media at this point.

But sources within the electoral body told New the number of confirmed arrests was an under-estimate.

Speaking to journalists after a politburo meeting last Friday, Zanu PF secretary for administration Didymus Mutasa alleged that electoral commission officials connived with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai to manipulate election results.

The MDC has described the allegations as ridiculous.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the Zanu PF claims were a decoy meant to shift attention from the urgent question of the delayed results of the presidential poll.

Chamisa said: “It should be very clear to the electorate that the allegations being levelled against the MDC are ridiculously impossible. All of a sudden ZEC is being labelled an opposition outfit conniving with the MDC to rig the elections against Mugabe.”

The MDC claims Tsvangirai won the elections, although independent election monitoring bodies say neither him nor Mugabe polled more than 50 percent of the total votes, making an election run-off necessary.

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