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Image: Reuters

Free and fair elections?

Jessie Wingard (AFP, AP)
July 31, 2013

Election officials overseeing Zimbabwe's July 31 ballot insist the country is ready to hold general elections in less than a week. However, fears of vote rigging and a lack of funding are worrying Zimbabweans.


"Elections will be credible, free and fair. We are ready for the elections," Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission [ZEC] deputy chairperson, Joyce Kazeme, told international election observers stationed in the country on Tuesday (24.07.2013).

Some 600 foreign observers have been endorsed to scrutinize the country's July 31 election as well as pre-poll voting for security officials assigned to work on election day. Close to 6,000 Zimbabwean observers will also monitor voting.

International observers include representatives of the African Union, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Observer missions from the European Union and the United States were not invited to oversee electoral proceedings because of sanctions imposed on Mugabe and some of his top officials for human rights abuses.

Foreign embassies in Zimbabwe, including those from EU countries and the US, have been given permission to send five diplomats each to monitor proceedings.

Rival candidates

The vote for presidency pits 89-year-old Robert Mugabe, the country's president for the past 33 years, against current prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai.

The election is the third attempt by Tsvangirai to oust Mugabe who has ruled Zimbabwe since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980. He is Africa's oldest leader.

Robert Mugabe(L) greets Morgan Tsvangirai (R) upon his arrival at the 31st Independence celebration in Harare
Tsvangirai (right) is trying to bring an end to Mugabe's 33-year rule of ZimbabweImage: imago stock&people

Both men were forced into a power-sharing agreement after the 2008 polls. Tsvangirai won the initial vote, but failed to garner a majority. Mugabe refused to stand down, and coupled with pressure from international leaders a run-off election was called.

Days before the run-off, Tsvangirai announced he would not stand due to threats made against him. Mugabe won the run-off vote overwhelmingly.

Fraud concerns

According to the country's electoral body, about 87,000 people, largely from the police service who will be on duty on election day, applied to vote ahead of July 31.

A Zimbabwean police officer casts his vote, at a polling station in Harare
Security officials slated to work on election day were able to cast their votes earlyImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

However, the early voting was marred by problems. An insufficient number of ballot papers and ink meant thousands were unable to cast their vote. Of those eligible to vote, ZEC's Joyce Kazembe said just over 37,000 were able to do so. She added that those unable to cast their vote early will have a second chance when polls open on the official day.

Concerns have also been raised about the current state of the electoral roll, worrying observers that its chaotic state could encourage fraud and irregularities.

Voter registration only closed two weeks ago, begging the question whether an up-to-date electoral roll will be available on July 31.

Six and a half million voters, around half Zimbabwe's population, are eligible to cast their votes on election day, the ZEC says.

The Research and Advocacy Unit, an independent non-governmental group, said their research showed more than one million people listed on the electoral roll were either dead or no longer living in the country.

In 63 constituencies, the group added, there were more voters registered than inhabitants. They also found more than two million unregistered voters.

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