Election watchdogs raise red flag over vote buying, initimidation in by-elections

Election watchdogs and opposition political parties have urged the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to take action against the intimidation of villagers during elections.

The ruling party set up Exit Poll Survey desks outside of polling stations in Saturday’s by-elections in Insiza and Matobo.

Zanu PF won five of the six rural district council by-elections held in Insiza Ward 4, Matobo Ward 2, Buhera Ward 24, Takawira Ward 6 in Midlands and Guruve Ward 4 while the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) won Mutare Ward 18.

Some of these Zanu PF desks were strategically placed 300 meters from polling stations, where polling officers and police had no authority over them, in accordance with Section 7 (d) of the Electoral Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates, which prohibits political parties and candidates from campaigning or displaying campaign materials within a 300-metre radius of a polling station or counting centre.

However, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) claimed it was a form of intimidation as villagers’ details were taken down.   

People were allegedly promised food and seed after ticking their names.

CCC Matabeleland South Chairperson Solani ‘Njemnyama’ Moyo raised alarm about the presence of those Zanu PF desks in an interview with CITE.

“We are worried about the desks that are situated 300 metres away from polling stations manned by young women supposedly trained in karate and they have been here for a week,” he said.

“These young women had a list of names of people.”

Moyo stated that since the Zanu PF members did not know who they were, he went to them and even shared some meals with them while they made their own investigations.

“We noticed their lists have names of almost all the people in that area and were telling voters they will get seeds and food. When we were there, two elderly women arrived at the desk and asked if they had received food from the distribution programme and if they had voted,” said the CCC official.

“Once those elderly women showed their marked fingers, they asked if they had voted ‘correctly’, the elderly women said yes and those young women said they would receive more food.”

According to Moyo, this was blatant vote buying.

“What we saw is clear vote buying as they have all the names of people. We are urging ZEC to monitor this and be on the lookout for such. We think Zanu PF will use the same strategy in the 2023 elections,” he said         

The Zanu PF desks in Insiza were located next to Mleja Primary School Polling Station, Edwaleni Polling Station Tent and Vumangwe Primary School.

In Insiza they were located near Sinkamaswe Primary School and Tudi 2 Primary School.

According to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), Insiza had the greatest voter participation, with 62.45 percent of the voting population showing up to vote.

Only at the fourth polling station, Lubuze Secondary School in Insiza, was the Zanu PF desk not seen, possibly due to the location of the ward collation centre at that school.

The news crew approached four women manning the desks in Edwaleni, who responded that their presence was allowed and referred inquiries to their superiors within the Zanu PF party.

The presiding officer at Edwaleni, Betty Sibanda, said she was monitoring the issue and had asked police to measure the distance between the desk and the voting booth because they lacked measurement equipment.

“Police indicated the desk was 330 metres away, but I requested that they relocate it further away to satisfy us because we didn’t have precise measurements,” she explained.

Other polling officers at Mleja and Vumangwe indicated they had no control over what happened beyond 300 meters.

“I requested that a police officer investigate what was going on there but what happens outside the 300-metre radius is out of our control,” said Jabulani Nkala presiding officer at Mleja.

In a statement, ZESN who had teams observing the by-elections pointed out some of the Zanu PF desks were a violation of the Electoral Code of Conduct.

“A few hours after the commencement of polling at Sikhamaswe Primary School in Matobo Ward 2, Zanu PF members reportedly mounted a desk with their party campaign materials less than 300 metres from the polling station,” said the election watchdog.

“While the desk was later removed following the intervention of ZEC and the Police detailed manning the polling station, this was in violation of Paragraph 7 (d); Electoral Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates which prohibits political parties and candidates from campaigning or displaying campaign materials within a 300 metres radius of a polling station or counting centre.”

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