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First Legal Challenge to Zimbabwe's Elections

President Robert Mugabe announced Tuesday that Zimbabwe's General Election will be held on March 31. The first legal challenge to the upcoming general election on behalf of people excluded from the voters roll will be launched this week by the main opposition party, The Movement for Democratic Change. The high court will be asked to adjudicate on exclusions from the voters roll before parliamentary elections at the end of March.

Tendai Biti, who is a member of parliament and also the MDC finance secretary, said the voters roll in his district was a mess.

Two weeks of national voter registration ended on Sunday with many people in various parts of Harare complaining that their names were no longer on the roll. Some people have reported to the MDC that some of them discovered they had been transferred to other districts, far from their homes. Others say their names do not appear anywhere on the voters rolls.

Mr. Biti said he was going to court using one well-documented example of exclusion to prove his point about the voters roll.

A woman from another electoral district in Harare said last weekend, shortly before voting registration ended, that she had been voting in the same area all her life. She said she discovered she was no longer registered as a voter in her home area. She said she did not have resources to travel to the city center to see the national roll and check if her name was on it.

Mr. Biti said the constitution also allowed non-citizens who were permanent residents to vote, but he said he knew of several who had been excluded.

Voter registration took place without any observers and there is no right of appeal under present electoral laws, except recourse to the courts.

The registrar-general's office controls voter registration and there were no officials in the office to take calls.

The MDC has more than 30 legal challenges outstanding from the last general election in 2000 and the presidential poll two years later. Much of the evidence the MDC says it would present to court if it had the opportunity would be allegations about duplications on the voters roll.

The registrar general's office has refused to give the MDC an electronic version of the voters roll so the party can check duplications through unique identity numbers.

There are 5.6 million registered voters in Zimbabwe, nearly half the population. A recent report on the population published by the University of Zimbabwe's department of statistics predicted a maximum of about 4.8 million voters should be eligible if 80 percent of people above age 18 registered. The MDC is expected to announce it will participate in the elections after a meeting of its national council Thursday.