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Thousands turned away

Staff Writers

A HANDFUL of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) candidates and the controversial Tsholotsho maverick Jonathan Moyo took initial leads in the early hours of this morning after yeste

rday’s hotly contested general election.

MDC candidates for Bulawayo East (Welshman Ncube), Bulawayo South (David Coltart), Gweru Rural (Renson Gasela) and Masvingo Central (Tongai Mathuthu) were reportedly in front after the first vote counts. Ncube was leading by a wide margin of 4 000 votes to 500 for Zanu PF’s Joshua Malinga after counting at about 10 polling stations. This trend was said to be similar for all constituencies in Bulawayo.

In Harare, the MDC’s Priscillah Misihairabwi was said to be galloping in front in Glen Norah against Zanu PF’s Victoria Chitepo. Murisi Zvizwai was also said to be charging ahead in Harare Central where he locked horns with Zanu PF’s Florence Chideya and independent candidate Margaret Dongo.

Moyo, former Information minister, quickly surged ahead after counting at six polling stations. The ex-minister had grabbed 965 votes, while his rivals were trailing behind. MDC candidate Mtoliki Sibanda had 322 votes and Zanu PF’s Musa Ncube was struggling at the back with 280.

However, there were worries about the number of voters turned away from polling stations yesterday as Zimbabweans participated in their first one-day election. In some constituencies as many as 10% of prospective voters were told their names did not appear on the voters’ roll.

Opposition and civic leaders have described the state of the voters’ roll as the regime’s “heart of darkness” as its contents have remained a closely guarded secret and were only made available as late as last week in some constituencies.

Preliminary results were expected early this morning after voting ended nationwide without the violence that characterised the 2000 parliamentary and 2002 presidential polls.

The first results were expected to trickle in from all the 120 constituencies in the early hours of this morning. Counting of votes was reportedly going on without hitches except lighting problems in some areas.

There was a power cut in Mbare last night just before the close of voting at 7.00pm. MDC youths protested loudly at Stodart Hall against what they saw as a deliberate move by authorities to rig the result. When the Zimbabwe Independent visited the polling station at the Netball Court in Mbare polling officers had lit candles and were waiting for power to be restored. Power was finally restored after forty minutes.

Voting ended at 7pm without any remaining potential voters in the queues and the electoral officers took a break before coming back to start verifying the ballots. By 10pm last night the electoral officers were still verifying and balancing the ballots. Totals of voters in some provinces and those turned away were provided by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) at 12.20am (see table).

Voting started slowly at 7am — some people had been queuing as early as 5am — and picked up at around 10am before peaking around midday.

Queues became shorter and by midday most polling stations were deserted.

Independent reporters who visited different areas in the three Mashonaland provinces reported the turnout was moderate in most areas and queues had almost disappeared by noon. Some polling stations had literally no one to process in the afternoon.

However, the high number of polling stations undoubtedly contributed to the absence of long queues.

The ZEC said at 9.30 pm 1 340 073 had voted in six provinces out of 5,6 million registered voters, while 133 155 were turned away for various reasons. This represented an almost 10% rejection rate of prospective voters.

The highest number of voters turned away was recorded in Mashonaland West with 35 267 failing to cast their vote.

Makonde in the province had 6 037 turned away while 20 720 managed to vote.

In 2000 2 493 925 people voted in the parliamentary poll. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an independent electoral body which provided a number of local observers, said about a quarter of the total people who wanted to vote were turned away in some areas.

“Of those turned away, a significant number were either not aware of the constituency boundaries or were turned away for failing to produce proper identification.”

It will become clearer today whether President Mugabe’s call for the electorate to send an unambiguous message to British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been heeded.

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