Zimbabwe voting extended as police crack down on activists
Police confiscate cellphones, laptops and electronic equipment in the opposition stronghold of Harare
Zimbabweans who failed to vote on election day on Wednesday were called back to vote on Thursday in a shambolic poll that has since seen the arrest of 41 civil society activists.
The police confiscated the activists’ cellphones, laptops and other electronic equipment in the opposition stronghold of Harare, claiming they were planning to illegally announce results.
Both developments were likely to dent the credibility of the election in a country where the ruling Zanu-PF has been in power for 43 years and is accused by opponents and analysts of using state institutions to rig elections in its favour.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa is under pressure to deliver a clean election from foreign lenders and donors who have long shunned Zimbabwe due to Zanu-PF’s record of economic mismanagement, human rights abuses and electoral fraud.
Mnangagwa took over from longtime strongman Robert Mugabe when he was ousted in a military coup in 2017. He has since won a disputed election in 2018 and is seeking a second full term.
His re-election bid comes after years of runaway inflation, steep currency depreciation and a joblessness crisis, all of which have left many Zimbabweans dependent on US dollar remittances from their relatives in the diaspora.
Mnangagwa’s main challenger is the same as in the previous election, lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
The police said the 41 people were arrested and detained during raids on four locations in Harare after a tip-off concerning “subversive and criminal activities”.
“The equipment was being used to unlawfully tabulate election voting statistics and results from polling stations throughout the country. These figures were being supplied by some observers and political party agents,” police spokesperson Paul Nyathi said in a statement.
The police named some of the organisations targeted as the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Election Resource Centre and Team Pachedu — all well-known civil society groups that had said they were monitoring the vote in the interests of democracy.
Roselyn Hanzi, director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said in posts on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that the activists were being detained without access to lawyers and had not been allowed to make any calls.
Zimbabwe’s opposition and independent analysts have long accused the police of partisan conduct, with opposition rallies often being banned or dispersed and figures critical of the government arbitrarily arrested. The police reject the allegation of bias.
After a significant number of polling stations in Harare and Bulawayo were hit by hours of delays on Wednesday, Mnangagwa ordered that voting should resume on Thursday in 40 wards, less than 1% of the total national number.
The electoral commission blamed the delays on the late printing of ballot papers caused by court challenges.
Reuters reporters who went to two wards where the voting was extended said there was very little activity at the polling stations. It was unclear whether voters were aware the voting in those wards had been extended or had simply given up.
Eldred Masunungure, a lecturer in political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said the confusion would jeopardise the integrity of the election and of the electoral commission.
“In the affected wards, we witnessed what amounts to an institutional disaster,” he said. “That injury has been addressed somewhat but not everyone will have the time nor the resources to vote today.”
Parliamentary results had been expected to trickle in on Thursday with the presidential result coming later, though well before a five-day deadline. It was unclear whether that schedule would be affected by the extended voting.
However the CCC on Thursday started claiming some parliamentary seats, mostly in its stronghold.
Update: August 24 2023
This story has been updated with new information.
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