Dozens of poll monitors arrested in tense Zimbabwe vote

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Dozens of poll monitors arrested in tense Zimbabwe vote

Thirty-nine local observers of Zimbabwe’s general elections have been arrested, police said Thursday, as the troubled poll entered an unscheduled second day.

They were arrested in multiple raids on Wednesday night and their computers and mobile phones were seized, police said.

“These were coordinating the alleged release of election results by some civic organisations,” police spokesman Paul Nyathi said.

Some were taken from an “election observation data centre,” according to a group of human rights lawyers.

Voters wait in line to vote outside polling stations during the presidential and legislative elections in Mbare, Harare, on August 23, 2023. – Zimbabweans on August 23, 2023 began voting in closely-watched presidential and legislative elections. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

Those arrested are from two prominent civic groups — the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and Election Resource Centre (ERC) — which work to promote free and fair elections.

The two organisations also conduct vote tabulations separately from the official tally overseen by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

“There can be no clearer sign of the profound panic of the ruling party than this drastic and egregious action,” the spokesman for the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) opposition, Charles Kwaramba, said in a statement.

He said the police action was “an extreme extension” of government action in the runup to the vote, “when media, activists and observers were barred or deported from the country.”

“This is a blatant attempt by a desperate ruling party to block observers monitoring and broadcasting the truth of this election,” Kwaramba said.

CCC leader Nelson Chamisa is facing off for the presidency against 80-year-old incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose ZANU-PF party has been in power since independence in 1980.

Opposition leader for the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) Nelson Chamisa (C) leaves after casting his ballot at a polling station during the presidential and legislative elections in Harare, on August 23, 2023. – Zimbabweans on August 23, 2023, began voting in closely-watched presidential and legislative elections. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

The polls have spilled into an unprecedented second day because of purported delays to print ballot papers — a problem that the CCC says is evidence of vote manipulation.

Nic Cheeseman, a democracy expert at Britain’s Birmingham University said the arrest of the observers was a “clear attempt to prevent parallel vote tabulation and (the) clearest evidence yet ZANU-PF thinks it may have lost and is in panic mode”.

The elections are also being monitored by international observers from the European Union, Commonwealth, African Union and the 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC).

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