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Zimbabwe: Election monitors arrested, vote extended

August 24, 2023

Zimbabwe's opposition blasted a "fundamentally flawed" electoral process, saying that delays, intimidation and other irregularities meant the ballot was "unable to produce a free and fair electoral outcome."

Two people cast their ballots in Zimbabwe's general election
Some 40 districts extended voting for an additional day, including in the capital HarareImage: Mkhululi Thobela/Anadolu Agency/picture alliance

Zimbabwe's election was extended for a second day in certain districts on Thursday after delays in the distribution of ballots prevented people from voting.

A presidential decree was issued to allow those districts to extend the vote for another day, as opposition groups decried irregularities and the arrest of over two dozen election monitors.

Some 40 election wards extended voting after voters waited hours to get a chance to cast a ballot the day before. Although the affected areas make up less than 1% of the country's wards, 11 of them are in the capital, Harare, which has the highest number of registered voters.

Zimbabweans cast votes in crucial elections: Knox Chitiyo, Chatham House

The voting extension takes place in three of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces, including opposition stronghold Harare, Mashonaland Central, where the ruling party is traditionally dominant, and Manicaland, which is a key battleground for both sides.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is seeking re-election after a first term. The 80-year-old took over the reins of the country when longtime strongman Robert Mugabe was deposed in a military coup in 2017. 

Mnangagwa is facing off with 10 other candidates, including his main challenger, lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

Election monitors arrested

The election is seen as a high-stakes vote, as Zimbabwe has suffered from years of runaway inflation, steep currency depreciation and a joblessness crisis.

But observers have warned that the contest may not be fair. The ruling ZANU-PF party has been in power for 43 years and has been accused of using state institutions to rig elections in its favor.

On Thursday, Zimbabwean police said they had arrested more than three dozen election monitors. Police said the organizations targeted were the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Election Resource Centre and Team Pachedu. 

Some 40 people were arrested during multiple raids, where police also seized mobile phones and computers, accusing them of "coordinating the alleged release of election results."

The CCC called the electoral process "fundamentally flawed," saying that delays, intimidation and other irregularities meant the ballot was "unable to produce a free and fair electoral outcome."

"There can be no clearer sign of the profound panic of the ruling party than this drastic and egregious action," CCC said about the election monitors' arrests.

International community watching

The year's elections are being monitored by observers from the EU, Commonwealth, African Union and the 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The US State Department had voiced concern about political violence ahead of the election.

"We call on the government of Zimbabwe and all political leaders to ensure the elections are free of violence and coercion," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The State Department spokesman criticized the denial of credentials to international journalists and local civil society to cover the election.

For its part, the Zimbabwean government and its state-run media have accused observers from the EU and the US of being biased against the ruling party.

jcg/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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