Chaos marred yesterday’s Mwenezi East by-election where many voters were turned away, including Zanu PF candidate Joosbi Omar — who, tragicomically, was only able to cast his vote at the third attempt after travelling almost 20 kilometres from the original polling station.
The build-up to the by-election had also been sullied by allegations of intimidation and vote buying — which forced one of the candidates, Kudakwashe Bhasikiti, to withdraw from the contest three weeks ago.
Civil society groups — who were monitoring yesterday’s mini poll — reported “widespread confusion” at polling stations, leading to many voters being turned away.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said most of the confusion arose as a result of poor voter education on the polling station-based voters’ roll, which resulted in many voters turning up at the wrong polling stations.
“As of midday, Zesn had observed a significant number of voters being turned away for turning up at the wrong polling stations and having improper identification.
“Some of the voters who turned up at the wrong polling stations were redirected to other polling stations, which at times were a considerable distance away.
“For instance, at Guramatunhu Primary School in Ward 13, by midday 19 people had been redirected to other polling stations as far away as five kilometres.
“The Zanu PF candidate Joosbi Omar was redirected from Vilivili Primary School to Muzhanjire Primary School, about 20km away in Ward 13, having also failed to vote at Chatagwi Primary School,” Zesn said.
“There is need for Zec (the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) to conduct robust voter education on the polling station-based voters’ roll, and to adequately publicise the inspection of the voters’ rolls to avoid cases of voters turning up at the wrong polling stations,” it added.
Apart from voters turning up at wrong polling stations, civic groups also reported many problematic cases of voters being assisted to vote, even as this practice is allowed by the constitution.
They also observed that although the election went largely peacefully, the campaign period was marred by allegations of intimidation, abuse of traditional leaders, the defacing of campaign materials, vote buying and the partisan distribution of food.
Analysts told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that the peaceful voting that had taken place was largely due to the fact that Zanu PF was not facing any formidable opponents in the by-election.
Deadly violence reared its ugly head in the last three by-elections in Norton, Chimanimani West and Bikita West — where Zanu PF thugs attacked opposition supporters and even poll candidates.
The Mwenezi East constituency fell vacant following the death of Zanu PF Member of Parliament Joshua Moyo, in December last year.
Omar contested little-known Welcome Masuku of the National Consultative Assembly (NCA) and Turner Mhango who represented an outfit called Free Zimbabwe Congress.
Zimbabwe’s biggest opposition party, the MDC, has been boycotting by-elections as part of its calls to have much-needed electoral reforms before the country holds next year’s watershed national elections.
The MDC and other opposition parties coalescing under the banner of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera) are also demanding the re-constitution of Zec, as well as a raft of other reforms.
Nera parties argue that in its present form, Zec is compromised by Zanu PF functionaries who they say are part of its secretariat.
The opposition has on a number of occasions been barred from holding demonstrations over outstanding electoral reforms, including the government’s hijacking of the procurement of biometric voter registration kits.
The controversy erupted into the open recently following the government’s sudden decision to sideline the UNDP from assisting in the procurement of the kits, with unanswered questions being raised about how and where the stone-broke government will secure funding for this, to the staggering tune of $17 million.
The opposition has alleged that the government is hijacking the process to rig next year’s eagerly-anticipated national elections. Daily News