US queries Zim voting results

2005-04-06 18:38

Cape Town - The United States Embassy in Zimbabwe has called on the Zimbabwean Election Commission to release the voting results of the individual polling stations as soon as possible.

In a statement received in Cape Town on Thursday, the embassy said the US government, along with many other governments that observed the 2000 and 2002 elections in Zimbabwe, were not invited to bring in outside observers for the March 31 elections.

However, the embassy in Harare sent 25 teams of diplomats accredited as election observers by the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) around the country during the pre-election period and on election day.

On election day, embassy teams observed more than 350 polling stations in 59 constituencies.

The observers noted several patterns of irregularities that raised concerns about the freeness and fairness of the process.

Of particular concern was a lack of transparency in the tabulation of vote counts.

The US observers were excluded from observing counts in four polling stations.

Where they were admitted, observers and officials, including party representatives and neutral domestic observers, were locked in the polling station and not permitted to communicate with anyone outside.

At the same time, uniformed police were observed communicating the vote tallies via radio and telephone.

In several observed instances, the presiding officer confiscated the notes of party polling agents and independent observers before letting them depart the polling station.

Food distribution

In apparent contravention of Zimbabwean election law, results were not publicly posted before being forwarded to regional centres and at many stations were never posted at all.

Zanu-PF agents and the police appeared to have improper roles in the supervision or conduct of the polling stations and in the operation of ZEC constituency tabulation centres.

In several instances, embassy observers witnessed uniformed police participating in the vote compilation instead of ZEC officials at the constituency tabulation centres.

Also, some polling stations were located in areas that would be intimidating to some voters, such as next to police stations or within 200m of a Zanu-PF office.

Some polling stations also appeared to be associated with the distribution of food. Finally, in many polling stations observed, the percentages of voters turned away were as high as 30 percent.

Compounding concern over these irregularities was the silence of the Zimbabwe Election Commission on crucial issues.

It had failed to release the voting results of any polling stations, to explain why its initial release of totals of ballots cast only included six of the country's ten provinces, and also not explained why it never released results for the remaining four provinces.