Zimbabwe election marred by delays and vote-rigging accusations
Zimbabwe election marred by delays and vote-rigging accusations

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The closely watched Zimbabwe election has been marred by long delays, allegations of vote-rigging and the arrest of local poll observers, threatening another contested result in the southern African nation.

On Thursday, more than 24 hours before the election began, some voters were still waiting to cast their ballots. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which is seeking a new five-year term, was forced to pass decrees extending voting hours in dozens of constituencies, including the capital Harare, as his ruling party, the African National Union – The RPF faces accusations of vote-rigging.

The credibility of the elections will be crucial to Zimbabwe’s ability to continue the African-led process to emerge from the international financial chill since Mnangagwa ousted Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup. Results will be officially announced within five days of voting.

Zimbabwe’s electoral commission failed to deliver ballots to many polling stations hours after they were due to open, notably in Harare and the second largest city, Bulawayo. Both cities are strongholds of the main opposition Alliance for Change, led by Mnangagwa’s main challenger, Nelson Chamisa.

Zimbabwean police also raided the data centers of the Zimbabwe Election Resource Center and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, two civil society groups that are following the vote, said Roseline Hanzi, executive director of Human Rights Lawyers for Zimbabwe.

ZESN chairman Andrew Makoni said 36 members of the two groups had been arrested by police for reasons that were unclear and would still be brought to court.

The groups “refrained from commenting on the election for now, as our focus is on the plight of our colleagues,” Marconi added.

Police in Zimbabwe said they arrested and seized equipment “used to illegally count election vote statistics and results at polling stations across the country”.

The overnight arrests of its members came after two domestic watch groups noted “widespread cases of voter intimidation by the ANU-PF by setting up exit polls and recording names”.

“There is no clearer indication of the extreme panic of the ruling party than this drastic and shocking action,” said Charles Kwaramba, the chief election agent for Chamisa’s party.

“This is an extreme extension of the government’s actions in the days leading up to the election, when media, activists and observers were banned or deported in droves,” he added.

The Electoral Commission blamed the delays on “protracted litigation” over the selection of local authority candidates, but most of the litigation ahead of the election was related to the presidential and parliamentary races.

Chamisa’s party is conducting a parallel count of the election and its proxies are collecting the results announced at polling stations.

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