THE Nelson Chamisa-led MDC Alliance has approached the High Court seeking to have postal ballots cast in police camps nullified for violating provisions of the Electoral Act.

BY BLESSED MHLANGA/NQOBANI NDLOVU

MDC-T secretary-general, Douglas Mwonzora yesterday said what happened at Ross Camp Police Station in Bulawayo on Thursday where police officers were allegedly forced to cast their votes under the watchful eye of their bosses was a violation of their constitutional rights and defeated the purpose of the postal ballot.

“We have filed an urgent chamber application in the High Court in Mutare to nullify all postal ballots cast in police stations and cantonment areas under the supervision of senior police officers and in the absence of our polling agents,” he said.

MDC Alliance members on Thursday night slept at the Ross Camp in Bulawayo to stop police officers from casting their ballots in front of their superiors.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) acting chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana confirmed that the postal voting was underway, with the completed postal ballot papers expected to be submitted on July 16.

There was chaos at Ross Camp in Bulawayo on Thursday following reports police officers had been ordered to cast their ballots under the watchful eye of their bosses.

The MDC Alliance however would have none of it, and stopped the process midway before sleeping at the venue to thwart any midnight voting.

There was tension yesterday at the Ross Camp, with riot police camping near the area as the MDC Alliance activists stood their ground refusing to leave, demanding transparency in the manner the postal ballot system was handled.

Under the Electoral Act, postal voting does not entail casting a vote in front of one’s superiors.

In an interview, MDC Alliance’s Bulawayo chief election agent Gideon Shoko said the opposition would continue with their overnight vigils at Ross Camp to stop what he claimed was an attempt to rig the elections.

“I slept here with some of the members because we were watching over the ballots that had already been cast. Because we didn’t want them to tamper with everything, so we kept a vigil overnight,” Shoko said.

MDC-T Bulawayo central legislator Dorcas Sibanda and several other aspiring local government and parliamentary candidates also slept at the police camp.

“What we discovered is that the police had set up a polling station. We believe, according to the law, when you set up a polling station situation, you then need polling agents. Since agents are not needed on postal votes, so the mistake that they made was to then set up a polling station. We are against that.

“We were trying to engage the police administration so that they don’t set up a polling station here. If they want to deal with that issue, the way forward would be calling all the police officers and give them their envelopes and allow them to disperse and do whatever they want to do with the ballot papers,” Shoko said.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said the postal voting in Bulawayo was chaotic and lacked transparency.

“Zesn expresses concern over the chaotic start of the postal voting process across the country. Reports emanating from Ross Camp in Bulawayo allege that junior members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) received their ballots from their superiors and voted in their presence. Zesn notes that these allegations are in violation of Section 75(1)(a) of the Electoral Act which guarantees the secrecy of the postal vote,” said Zesn.

The electoral watchdog further expressed concern over the conflicting statements from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and the police, saying it was not good for transparency.

“It is worrying that initially there were conflicting statements issued by the Zec and ZRP regarding the commencement of the postal voting yesterday. Whereas Zec dismissed reports of the postal voting as ‘hogwash’, the ZRP confirmed that voting had indeed taken place in Bulawayo. This has further fuelled doubts on the credibility of the entire process,” Zesn said.

“Zesn reiterates its calls for Zec to ensure that secrecy of the vote and freedom of choice are respected and upheld given that voting by members of the uniformed forces under postal and special voting has always been contentious because it has traditionally been shrouded in secrecy amid allegations that junior members are commanded to vote in specific ways,” reads the statement.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) said Zec’s conduct had proved the electoral body was incapable of presiding over free, fair and credible polls.

“It has also been proved beyond reasonable doubt that the independence and impartiality of Zec is heavily compromised and that the commission is a captured institution that represents the interests of Zanu PF which has over the years manipulated the postal vote in its favour,” said CiZC.

‘We are also concerned that an electoral body mandated with administering elections would abuse the State media to peddle falsehoods on national issues that ought to be transparent and open for public scrutiny.”

Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba refuted claims that junior officers were forced to vote under the watchful eye of their bosses.

“Under the new dispensation, police are allowed to vote for candidates of their choice. The police officers were given their envelopes and were allowed to vote for a candidate of their choice, these allegations are merely falsehoods,” she said.