NEXT week’s polls present an acid test for government’s competency to run credible elections. They also provide a plum chance for Zanu PF to redeem itself from accusations of electo
ral fraud that have etched themselves deeply in the public consciousness over the past five years.
The prospect of a chaotic poll are real as Zimbabwe’s 5,6 million registered voters have 720 minutes to cast their ballots on March 31 unlike during the past five general lections when they had twice that length of time.
Zimbabwe’s fate hangs on 12 hours of hectic voting.
Close to 8 200 polling stations are to be set up countrywide with an average of 30 polling stations designated in urban constituencies while an average of 90 have been designated for rural constituencies where the ruling Zanu PF party draws the bulk of its support.
There are 8 175 polling stations for this month’s election compared to 3 904 in 2000, according to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn).
“We are likely to witness a lot of chaos in these elections. There are polling stations at contentious sites such as at the traditional leaders’ homesteads or very close to known war veterans’ homesteads,” Movement for Democratic Change spokesperson Paul Themba-Nyathi said.
He said the MDC was concerned about such locations given the history of intimidation and the associated violence directed at the rural voter in the past and the more subtle methods employed by ruling party supporters this time around.
The ruling party is in its worst dilemma in more than two decades, having squandered enormous amounts of energy during the last five years trying, without success, to convince the international community of the legitimacy of the hotly-disputed 2000 election and the 2005 presidential poll.
In Bulawayo province where 339 990 voters are eligible to vote, an average of 540 voters will scramble to enter each one of the 630 voting cubicles dotted around the seven constituencies in 12 hours before polling closes at 7pm. If everyone eligible to vote goes to the polling station, this allots him or her 98 seconds (1 minute 38 seconds) to complete the process.
Similarly in Harare province each one of the 832 517 eligible voters in the 19 constituencies has 97 seconds to go through the process of checking his name on the voters’ roll, dipping his hands in the indelible ink, going into the cubicle to mark their ballot and dropping the ballot paper in the translucent box.
In contrast, a voter in rural Mashonaland East province has 3 minutes 44 seconds to go through the process while their counterpart in rural Mashonaland Central has 2 minutes 37 seconds to complete the same task.
During the hotly disputed 2000 poll, Uzumba-Maramba-Pfungwe constituency broke a record with the highest voter turnout of 30 876 voters having cast their votes in one day. Pollsters calculated that it took 42 seconds for each voter in the rural constituency to go through the process despite the high numbers needing to be “assisted to vote” among the elderly voters. Even though polling was conducted in two days, they had completed casting their ballots on the first day of polling.
“Logistically we should have made preparations earlier to give ourselves ample time for adjustments where necessary. But in our view it is better to hold the poll in one day because the second day has in the past been used for vote tampering,” Nyathi said.
He said despite disconcert over the location of some poling booths his party could not compromise on the integrity of the election by reverting to the two-day polls, admitting that the preparations and setup were tardy.
“The problems is that when Zanu PF is compelled to do something logical it always takes revenge and adopts a we-told-you-so attitude,” Nyathi said.
Independent candidate for Harare Central, Margaret Dongo expressed concern about the polling arrangement put in place for this month’s poll, saying the planning in Harare Central did not bode well for a one-day poll.
Dongo said the arrangements had not taken into account homes for the elderly, citing Belvedere where she accused government of “cluttering the area with polling stations with the hope of cap-turing the Asian community and civil servants in that area” while booths were spread thin in of Avondale suburb.
“All contesting parties should participate in the process to delimitate constituencies and decide on proper locations for polling booths. To avoid a lot of confusion avoters’ roll should be made available a year preceding the polling year to allow candidates study it, if we have to avoid vote tampering,” Dongo said.
Major fears have also emerged regarding the counting of votes when polling closes in the evening.
Zesn chairman, Reginald Matchaba-Hove said problems could be encountered in the counting of votes when it gets dark.
“We are in the process of acquiring candles and lanterns for use during the elections,” chief elections officer, Lovemore Sekeramayi, said.