African missions cautiously approve Zimbabwe votePublished 10:33am Friday, August 2, 2013
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s elections received cautious approval Friday from two African observer missions despite allegations by the main challenger to President Robert Mugabe and a local monitoring group that the vote was heavily rigged.
The African Union said it had some “grave” and “serious” concerns, and regional monitors from southern Africa said that while Wednesday’s vote was peaceful it was too early to pronounce it fair.
Olusegun Obasanjo, head of the African Union mission, said his monitors noted some apparent irregularities but that they did not constitute evidence of systematic tampering. Mugabe’s supporters have rejected allegations of rigging and claimed victory. Wednesday’s contentious vote has created fresh uncertainty in a country long afflicted by division and economic turmoil.
“Yes, the election is free,” Obasanjo said. He described the vote as credible unless any evidence to the contrary emerges, and asked election authorities to investigate reports that tens of thousands of eligible voters were turned away. Another poll monitoring group in Zimbabwe said as many as 1 million of the more than 6 million eligible voters were prevented from casting ballots.
“If 25 percent were not allowed, then, yes, the election is fatally flawed,” said Obasanjo, a former Nigerian president. His mission has 70 observers.
The head of the observer mission for the Southern African Development Community, a regional body, described the election Wednesday as “very free” and “very peaceful,” but noted that there were some violations and a full analysis was still under way. It was too early to describe the vote as “fair”, he said
“The question of fairness is broad and you cannot answer it within one day,” said Bernard Membe, who is also Tanzania’s foreign minister. “And so be sure that within 30 days, through our main report, the question of fairness may come.”
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Mugabe’s main opponent in the presidential vote, has declared the election “null and void.”
Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party said Friday that poll returns showed that 3.9 million voters cast their ballots on Wednesday. That 61 percent turnout was higher than in an uncontested referendum on a new constitution in March where no disputed voters’ lists were used and only national citizens’ identity documents were needed.
By later Friday, official results announced by the election commission showed Mugabe’s ZANU-PF capturing 70 of the 210 parliament seats and Tsvangirai’s party winning 38 seats so far.
Full results on the presidential and parliament votes have been promised by Monday.
Mugabe’s Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Friday his party was “headed for an unprecedented landslide.”
“If anyone is dissatisfied, the courts are there. I invite Tsvangirai to go to court if he has any grounds to justify what he has been saying,” Chinamasa told reporters.
Under the law, seven days were set aside for legal challenges, with another two days for rulings to be made and then the swearing in of a new government takes place.
Obasanjo said voting itself was peaceful but the observers noted “incidences that could have been avoided and even tended to have breached the law.”
Independent election monitors have alleged many people were unable to vote because of disorganized voters’ lists and a chaotic program to register electors on those lists in the run-up to polling day.
Obasanjo said some apparent irregularities were made in error largely after funding for the vote was late in coming from the nation’s depleted state coffers.
“I have never seen an election that is perfect,” he said. “The process continues and we have to limit our comments.”
Aisha Abdullahi, the African Union’s commissioner for political affairs, said observers reported that Zimbabwe had made improvements in the conduct of elections since the last violent and disputed elections in 2008 that led regional leaders to forge a shaky coalition between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader.
But she said they expressed “grave concerns” over voters’ lists this time that were not made available in time for inspection and verification by voters, contesting parties and candidates. Public scrutiny of the voters’ roll was of vital “strategic importance” to verify the accuracy of the contents and establish correct numbers of eligible electors, she said.
She said the electoral commission printed 8.7 million ballot papers for 6.4 million voters, or 35 percent above the number of registered voters against the international standard of 5 to 10 percent.
Observers said a significant number of ballot booklets had missing ballot papers and papers without serial numbers.
They also expressed “great concern” over the high numbers of voters turned away. The late publicity on the location of voting stations just 48 hours before stations opened contributed also to voters who failed to cast ballots because they were not at correct polling sites.
Abdullahi said observers reported a high number of disabled, elderly or other “assisted voters” being helped to cast their ballots by polling officers who may have influenced them against their free will. In some outlying stations, one-quarter of voters were helped this way.
She said some AU observers are to remain in Zimbabwe until Aug. 14.