Vote-rigging feared as first votes are cast in Zimbabwe

Vote rigging in Saturday's election in Zimbabwe may have begun as early as last week when the 75,000 members of the country's armed forces cast their postal ballots, according to internal critics.

The claim came as Amnesty International listed a series of infringements of opposition activists' freedom yesterday, including physical threats, detentions, and denial of access to food because of their perceived political affiliations. Amnesty said opposition supporters had been forced to take down election posters and to "chew" them.

The police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena, who is an outspoken supporter of the ruling Zanu-PF party, defended the postal voting process used by the armed forces. "Postal voting is a private process," he said. "Why should it be monitored by observers? The votes will be sealed and taken to the Zimbabwe Election Commission."

But members of the military in Mutare told a South African reporter that soldiers had been ordered to write their service numbers on the backs of the ballot papers, making it simple to establish how they had voted. The reporter was also told that ballots were "sifted" by commanders and police chiefs before being forwarded to the electoral commission.

The run-up to the presidential, parliamentary and local council elections has been dominated by evidence of desperate measures by Robert Mugabe to prolong his 28-year grip on power. President Mugabe, 84, faces a challenge from the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai. A former Zanu-PF finance minister, Simba Makoni, is also standing, although he is promising Mr Mugabe a pension rather than retribution.

Amnesty said food had been used as an electoral weapon and cited an example of the MDC being prevented from buying 235 bags of maize from the state-owned Grain Marketing Board. The party was told that "GMB maize is not supposed to be distributed to MDC supporters".

"Although, opposition parties appear to be enjoying a greater degree of access to rural areas compared with previous elections, we continue to receive reports of intimidation, harassment and violence against perceived supporters of opposition candidates," said Amnesty's Zimbabwe researcher Simeon Mawanza.

Mr Makoni claimed yesterday that he had been prevented from placing advertisements in state media. The MDC said a helicopter it had chartered was grounded by the authorities last weekend, preventing its leader from addressing several rural rallies.

Only a small number of election observers have been admitted, none of them from the European Union or Commonwealth. Nevertheless, amid expressions of concern from those who are there, the authorities pledged that ballots cast will not be removed from polling stations to be counted centrally.

George Chiweshe, chairman of the election commission, told observers from the Southern Africa Development Community: "A section of society misconstrued what we said. The presidential election results will be counted at polling stations but collated by the chief electoral officer at the central command centre. We did not mean that all ballot boxes will be carried to the national centre." Mr Tsvangirai had threatened to boycott the election if votes were counted centrally.

Mr Chiweshe also sought to allay fears that a loophole existed regarding a second round of elections. He said: "A candidate should get a greater number of votes than those cast for all his competitors combined – 50 plus one. The law provides for a rerun after 21 days if any of the contesting candidates fail to get a majority."

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio talks during the press conference for the film
films

Film follows park rangers in the Congo

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Group: English as an Additional Langua...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album