Low voter turnout anticipated

AN escalation in political violence and attempts to influence opposition supporters in rural Zimbabwe could result in a low turnout in next month’s election, civic voter education groups have warned.



ace=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Gorden Moyo, the chairman of Bulawayo Agenda, a civic education group based in Zimbabwe’s second city, alleged that political violence, intimidation and the use of food aid to coerce voters was increasing ahead of the March 31 poll.


The group also operates provincial monitoring offices in Gwanda in Matabeleland South and Hwange in Matabeleland North. In separate interviews, the groups said they had been notified that greater use was being made of traditional chiefs to allegedly influence their subjects.


People were also being told that the use of translucent ballot boxes would enable the authorities to trace each vote cast.


Moreover, Moyo said, they had received credible reports that inter-party political violence was on the rise in Gwanda and Beitbridge constituencies.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said they had not received any reports citing incidents of violence or intimidation. “We are surprised to hear that. But I can assure you that the campaign remains peaceful,” he commented.


“We must see this as a general, nationwide intimidation campaign — seeing as it comes just as violence and arbitrary arrests of opposition and civil society members rise in the urban areas,” Moyo remarked.


Reginald Matchaba-Hove, chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said that fear of political violence could affect turnout among opposition supporters.


“They would rather not go to vote than vote and face the recriminations. Past experience has taught them that such threats are eventually carried out, and they fear a repeat of 2000/2002 (legislative and presidential elections),” said Matchaba-Hove.


“The penalty for voting for the opposition can be an expulsion from the village, physical violence, withdrawal from the local food aid registers, or all of them combined.”


The rural areas have traditionally been Zanu PF, with the chiefs, who maintain the food aid registers, being loyal supporters.


According to the US-funded Famine Early Warning System Network (Fews Net), an estimated five million people in Zimbabwe are in need of food aid.

Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi countered claims of violence and use of influence, and described the organisations raising the allegations of human rights abuses as “Western-funded”, with subversive leanings.


He said the police were monitoring the election campaigns to ensure that no threats were made against members of the public.


“Ours is a peaceful party. Just like the government, our people hold their chiefs in high regard and, naturally, get worried when such accusations are made against them,” Mohadi said.


“We cannot deny our people the right to choose their own leaders, when we fought so hard to bring them human rights, freedom and social justice; we cannot undo those noble values of the liberation struggle.” -— Irin.

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