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Zimbabwe: 'Vote recount to take longer'
Posted: Monday, April 21, 2008

Herald Reporters

RECOUNTING of votes in 23 constituencies might take longer than the three days initially projected, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said.

ZEC deputy chief elections officer responsible for operations Mr Utloile Silaigwana said the election body's preliminary assessment had indicated that the process might take longer than originally anticipated as there was a lot of work involved.

Reports from Mashonaland West, Matabeleland and Masvingo indicated that the recounting process started well with all political parties involved including the MDC-T, despite denials by the party's leadership.

"Recounting is going on well and all political parties are represented by their election agents. There are signs that the counting might take longer than the three days we had projected," Mr Silaigwana said.

"The agents are mostly influencing the delay because they are raising issues which they would want attended to and clarified.

"I am still to get a full report on what is happening from across all the 23 constituencies, but that is our preliminary assessment so far."

He said in Goromonzi West five wards out of eight had been completed and he had by last night not yet received any reports of a major hiccup arising from the recount.

At least one ward had been completed out of eight in Zvimba North when The Herald visited Murombedzi Government Complex yesterday afternoon.

The provincial election officer, Mr Michael Guzha, said counting was going on well and by late afternoon counting for the second ward had started.

The Herald saw chief election agents for both Zanu-PF and the MDC-T, both of whom declined to comment on progress.

In Masvingo, MDC-T polling agents became part of the process yesterday although one of the party's top officials said they were simply playing a monitoring role.

"We have disengaged from the process (recounting), but we are merely playing a monitoring role to see how the process proceeds," he said, preferring anonymity.

Reports from Bulawayo also indicated that MDC-T had polling agents on the ground despite denials by the party's spokesperson Nelson Chamisa.

The Matabeleland North provincial election officer, Mr Mark Ndlovu, confirmed that MDC-T was represented.

He described some MDC-T election agents' threat to boycott the recount as a "short walkout".

Chamisa denied that his party was participating in the recount despite being told that the party's vehicle bearing its logo was seen at Murombedzi Government Complex with officials from the party participating.

"The national executive committee of the party made a resolution that we will not participate in the recount or run-off. We have zero confidence in ZEC because we believe that it is an extension of Zanu-PF, so why should we participate in the recount?" said Chamisa.

When told that The Herald was on the ground and had seen officials from his party participating, Chamisa said: "You might have been on the ground, but on the wrong ground."

Mr Silaigwana said the MDC-T was represented in all the 23 constituencies and castigated Chamisa for "misleading people".

"In all the 23 constituencies that are being recounted, the MDC-T is represented and all the concerns they have raised have been attended to their satisfaction, including those concerns raised by Zanu-PF, paving way for the recount to begin."

He said one of the issues raised by both parties was the claim that the ballot boxes had been tampered with.

"We told the election agents that the election material they were referring to were cardboard boxes containing accessories like pairs of scissors and so forth, and not the translucent boxes and they understood our explanation and counting started," he said.

In Masvingo yesterday, recounting started at a snail's pace with preliminary estimates pointing to the completion of the process by end of this week.

On Saturday, the process started around 2pm in Masvingo West and Central constituencies because of the meticulous verification process, among other logistical requirements.

Sources said the process was likely to take about a week to complete as the painstaking verification process was consuming most of the time.

By 6:45am yesterday, only a few ballot boxes had been recounted in both Masvingo West and Central constituencies.

The situation was also reported to be the same in Chiredzi, Gutu, Zaka and Bikita.

In Lupane East constituency, the process began at about 9.30pm on Saturday at Kusile Rural District Council offices and resumed yesterday at 8.30am.

Mr Ndlovu said the delays being experienced were a result of the refusal to participate by the MDC-T when the recounting process started alleging that the ballot boxes had been tampered with.

"After the accreditation on Saturday, we proceeded to Zwangendaba where the ballot boxes were being kept. We carried out an external examination.

"It was at that juncture that the MDC-T agents started claiming that the ballot boxes had been tampered with and called for an investigation.

"I told them that it was not necessary to go that route as there was no tangible evidence and they walked out, but it was a short walkout. After telling them that it did not help to walk out but it was better for them to witness the recount, they reconsidered their decision," he said.

Lupane East constituency has 14 wards and by midday yesterday only ballot boxes for four wards had been brought to the recounting centre.

"Because of inadequate storage space here, we cannot bring all the ballot boxes at once. As soon as we are done with these, we will move in and collect the following batch," Mr Ndlovu said.

He was, however, confident that the process would be completed on time.

"It's possible. Yes, we lost a day, but let me assure everyone that with the pace at which we are moving, we will complete the work within the stipulated period," he said.

Mr Ndlovu said the other constraint they faced was poor communication which has since been rectified.

In Bulilima East constituency, recounting started well yesterday until late afternoon when MDC-T polling agents threatened to boycott the exercise, accusing ZEC and Zanu-PF officials of holding a private meeting.

The recount resumed after an hour's delay when the Matabeleland South provincial elections officer, Mr Jotham Nyathi, and other ZEC officials had held a meeting with all candidates, polling agents and observers who were present to clear the air.

The MDC-T agents had seen Zanu-PF Bulilima-Mangwe Senate candidate Cde Eunice Sandi and House of Assembly candidate Cde Mathias Ndlovu chatting with Mr Nyathi and other senior ZEC officials outside the Plumtree High School Hall where the counting was in progress.

The agents who were outside the hall informed the MDC-T candidate, Norman Mpofu, about the alleged meeting after the first count.

Mpofu and his party's Senate candidate Lutho Tapela immediately went outside and challenged the ZEC officials and Zanu-PF members on why they had held a meeting in their absence and in the absence of observers.

The MDC-T members then held a brief meeting on their own before walking out of the hall in protest, declaring that they would only take part in the proceedings after ZEC officials had told them what the meeting was about.

Although Mr Nyathi later apologised during a meeting where the MDC-T members outlined their grievances, he emphasised the fact that the meeting was not about undermining anyone.

Zanu-PF officials walked out of proceedings after ZEC officials refused to entertain their complaints that the MDC had bussed in voters into the constituency during the March 29 elections and wanted the voters' roll to be checked.

"We came here as people who lodged a complaint and we don't know how that would cause a problem. Checking people on the voters' roll is a normal electoral process and remember it's not only one party which can walk out," Cde Sandi said before walking out of the hall.

But she returned later and an agreement was reached that ZEC officials, candidates and their agents should be present when parties present their grievances to ZEC officials.

Mr Nyathi said apart from these delays, the recounting went well.

"We are finalising the local government elections and we will soon go into the House of Assembly ballots. Because of poor lighting, we have agreed with all parties that we will end the exercise at 6pm and start at 8am," he said.

Recounts were being carried out in Chimanimani West, Mutare West, Bikita West, Bikita South, Bulilima East, Zhombe, Zaka West, Zvimba North, Silobela, Chiredzi North, Mberengwa East, West, South and North, Gutu South, North, Central and Goromonzi West.

ZEC ordered a recount after it said it had discovered some miscounts which in its view might have affected the results.

The High Court has since dismissed an application by the MDC-T to have the recount halted.

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