Voter Apathy, Violence And Irregularities Combine To Turn By-elections Into A Sham

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By Staff Reporter

SATURDAY’s legislative and municipal by-elections were turned reduced to a major sham due to widespread violence, vote buying, voter apathy and irregularities such as people being turned away from polling stations and others discovering their names had been clandestinely moved to different polling stations.

The elections were conducted in 28 parliamentary and 122 local government seats that fell vacant following the recalls of MDC Alliance legislators and councillors.

Some seats fell vacant after the death of councillors and legislators that were voted into office in 2018.

The polls were held amid concerns from the opposition and independent election watchdogs over the credibility of the voters’ roll after a number of discrepancies and anomalies were uncovered.

There were reports of pockets of violence targeting opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) candidates and polling agents in some constituencies.

In Gokwe Nembudziya, CCC candidate for ward 23 Munyaradzi Nyati was allegedly assaulted by a Zanu PF supporter after he informed the presiding officer at Tsungai Polling Station that ruling party activists were intimidating potential voters outside the polling stations.

Nyati filed a report at the command centre at Kwayedza Primary School where his case was booked by a Sergeant Mugabe from Nembudziya Law and Order Section.

He was told to return to Nembudziya Police Station Sunday

In Kwekwe, a CCC polling agent Sympathy Chakwanda lost a tooth after he was allegedly assaulted by Zanu PF supporters for confronting them over the bussing of voters to a polling station.

CCC Kwekwe Central National Assembly candidate Judith Tobaiwa confirmed the incident.

“One of our polling agents was hauled from the polling station by Zanu PF activists, who beat him until he lost a tooth and sustained a deep cut on the forehead,” Tobaiwa said.

“He has been taken to hospital and a police report has been made.

Zanu PF director of information Tafadzwa Mugwadi made counter accusations against the CCC.

“What was disturbing were the threats of violence by CCC candidates, who instigated violence against polling officers putting the electoral process in disarray,” Mugwadi said.

“A well-known member of Zanu PF was also assaulted by a CCC member on his way to vote in Harare.”

Mugwadi, CCC spokesperson Fadzai Mahere and election watchdogs Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) and the Elections Resource Centre (ERC) all confirmed scores of people could not find their names in the voters’ roll.

Observers had prior to the polls raised concerns over the voters’ roll after the unearthing of anomalies, saying this cast doubt on the credibility of the polls.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) had dismissed the claims, saying a voters’ roll with glaring discrepancies had been tampered with to discredit the elections management body.

“In Mutasa Central, ward 4, the voters’ roll was not proper to the extent that some of the voters failed to vote,” Mugwadi said.

“There was a mix up of the polling stations and the majority of our supporters failed to vote.

But we believe it was a technical mix up that will be rectified.”

Addressing a press briefing in Harare Saturday night said, Mahere said: “Many people were turned away because their names were not appearing on the voters roll even though their names appeared in 2018 at the same polling stations and that is worrying because every citizen has the right to vote.”

Data analysts such as Team Pachedu took Zec to task for making changes to 156 polling stations and moving 170 000 voters from their respective polling stations ahead of the by-elections,

Zec must explain what process it used to remove citizens from the polling stations,” Mahere said.

“Zec simply has not compled with the laws. We have the problem where people are removed and placed in different polling stations.”

According to the ERC and Zesn that observed the elections, a number of polling stations in places like Epworth, Murehwa South and Chivi South were not easily accessible.

The election watchdogs also raised an issue with variations with the indelible link, saying it was of poor quality and could be easily erased to allow multiple voting.

“ERC and ZESN observers as well as voters have reported wide variation in the types of indelible ink colours used by ZEC to mark voters’ fingers.

“A concern has been that the blueish variance of the ink is of poor quality and may not be able to prevent multiple voting.

“Indelible ink is important in safeguarding against multiple voting; however, poor quality raises fears of potential malpractice,” the organisations said yesterday evening in a situational report.

The two organisations blamed the confusion and apathy on lack of voter education and engagement.

“This shortcoming in public engagement, when viewed alongside the administration of the two different voters’ rolls in constituencies where there are concurrent elections for the National Assembly and ward by-elections, has resulted in confusion amongst voters in the affected areas,” they added.

“Stakeholders have also expressed concern over the quality and integrity of the voters’ roll, which was further compounded by the delay by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission in sharing the official voters’ roll for analysis.”

CCC said some of its polling agents were chased away from polling centres citing an incident at Musi farm tent, ward 4 in Marondera East and in Epworth.

Zanu PF and the CCC also made counter accusations against each other over the bussing of supporters to vote.

In Bulawayo, intermittent heavy rains disrupted the submission of progress reports, according to provincial elections Officer Innocent Ncube said.

“As for the statistics, we are unable to give because we have a challenge as a result of the rains, the communication system was disturbed and we have not been getting the figures,” Ncube said.

“We have notified those in ward and constituency command centres and polling stations to use vehicles to bring the reports.”

The polls were marred by voter apathy across the country with some polling centres deserted