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Observers urge unfettered poll access

AFP-JIJI

Regional mediators on Monday called for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe on July 31 as problems with early voting sent warning signals for the key presidential and parliamentary polls.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC), which brokered a power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, after Zimbabwe’s 2008 election, descended into violence, urged political players, security forces and the election commission to “exercise restraint and avoid frustrating voters.”

The 15-member regional bloc will deploy 442 observers to cover 210 constituencies across Zimbabwe in the upcoming polls, which will end the uneasy power-sharing deal and determine whether Mugabe, 89, extends his 33 years in power.

The African Union will also send observers, but Zimbabwe has refused missions from Western nations.

Local election monitors, meanwhile, called on the electoral commission to extend early voting for thousands of police officers, which started Sunday but was marred by chaos. Polling stations opened late and many lacked indelible ink, stamps, voter rolls, ballot papers and boxes. “The process continues to be disorganized, an indication the commission was unprepared to conduct the special voting process,” Zimbabwe Election Support Network chair Solomon Zwana said. The problems were an ominous signal ahead of the upcoming vote, he added.

The group was “seriously concerned that the chaos that prevailed during the special voting process serves as a telling and worrying indicator that could repeat itself,” he said.

Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba conceded two days were not enough for the voting. “Indications on the ground are that it is now clear that members and officers of the Zimbabwe Republic Police have been unable to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” she said.