POLICE officers and soldiers who will be on duty during the July 31 harmonised elections yesterday started casting their special ballots in a process characterised by delay and shortage of ballot papers, raising doubts over the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)’s ability to run credible polls later this month.
Most polling stations in Harare opened at 7am with thousands of police officers waiting to cast their votes while most of the stations had no ballot papers.
The two MDC formations immediately said they no longer trusted Zec to oversee the make-or-break July 31 polls after it failed to administer special voting.
At other polling stations, including Mai Musodzi Hall in Mbare and Highfield, voting started at around 7:30am as ballot papers were received late. The situation was replicated in Southerton.
The constituency election officer for Southerton, Garikai Manyanga, said: “We opened at 7am, but voting started around 7:30am because we experienced delays in receiving the ballot papers.”
By 10am, thousands of police officers at Mount Pleasant Hall had not had an opportunity to cast their vote as the ballot envelops were yet to arrive.
Chaotic scenes were witnessed in the morning as the police officers forced their way into the polling stations to cast their votes.
Zec commissioner Geoff Feltoe, who was at Mount Pleasant, said there was confusion because some of the ballot envelopes had not been delivered.
“The process has been slow here because some of the envelopes had not yet arrived. So what they are now doing is to call out the officers who have their envelopes here so as to decongest,” he said.
Deputy Commissioner-General Innocent Matibiri and officer commanding Harare Senior Assistant Commissioner Clement Munoriarwa paid a visit at Mount Pleasant Hall in the morning to see how the process was going.
In Kuwadzana, by 3:30pm no votes had been cast as the ballot papers were said to be too few.
At one polling station at Kwekwe High School, a paltry 203 ballot envelops were delivered with 703 police officers having been registered.
The MDC-T also complained over the presence of Kwekwe Central Police Station officer-in-charge Aternus Murada who was controlling the queue.
In Masvingo and Zvishavane, by 5pm, the special voting exercise had not yet started due to lack of ballot papers, while by afternoon voting was yet to commence in Marondera.
“The process is overwhelming, we have not yet compiled the number of officers who have voted yet, but it is going on smoothly,” a polling officer at Town House in Harare said. “We have not yet sent anyone away.”
Zec deputy chairperson Joyce Kazembe told a Press conference last night that voting had not begun in Masvingo.
“Voting at most polling stations started at a slow pace at most centres. This was mainly due to the fact that we delayed dispatching ballot papers to the centres. I wish to advise that the printing of ballot papers delayed even beyond our expectation. This was due to a number of reasons, chief of which was the delay in finalising the designing of ballot papers in those wards and constituencies where nomination was under challenge.
“We were hoping that the printer providing printing services to us would complete the printing of ballot papers on time, but this has not happened as printing is still in progress.”
Kazembe said ballot papers had been dispatched as follows: Matabeleland North 1 724, Matabeleland South 153, Midlands 1 204, Harare 566, Bulawayo 864 while Masvingo was yet to receive ballot papers.
“We admit we underestimated the process. By next week, all ballot papers for July 31 will be ready,” Kazembe said.
Addressing MDC-T party supporters in Masvingo, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai questioned if the national elections body could cope with millions of registered voters countrywide when it was overwhelmed by only about 70 000 police officers.
“We gave Zec the powers to oversee a free and fair poll. But right now, the special voting exercise by the police today has not yet commenced,” Tsvangirai said.
“The question is if Zec has failed to run the special voting of about 80 000 police officers, how then can it administer a national poll? If Zec fails to avail ballot boxes for the police, how then will it cope when it comes to national elections?”
Professor Welshman Ncube-led MDC deputy spokesperson Kurauone Chihwayi concurred that the bungling witnessed during the special voting had exposed Zec.
“It is now clear that Zec has not been ready for elections. This is an election by ambush. If Zec is failing to transparently run a small poll like the special vote, how then are they going to run a bigger election? They must stop lying and publicly admit that they are not adequately equipped to run elections,” he said.
“Zimbabwe is facing a disputed and discredited poll because of chaos that is engulfing the special vote. The credibility of Zec is now at stake. The MDC is investigating allegations of vote-rigging in Mberengwa and blocking of our election agents.”