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Election Process Begins in Zimbabwe

As Zimbabwe's election campaign period gets under way, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change says it is unable to prepare for the March poll because of restrictions and obstructions. Inspection of voters rolls began this week, but opposition members of parliament are unable to get copies and few people know they check that they are registered as voters.

The ZANU-PF government has not run any announcement on state-controlled radio, which is the only radio in Zimbabwe, telling people where to go to to check that their names are on the voter rolls.

According to the latest research into advertising trends in Zimbabwe, 90 percent of Zimbabweans get their information from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation's four radio stations. No privately-owned stations are allowed in Zimbabwe.

There have been two advertisements about this process in state-controlled newspapers, which have limited urban circulation and are too expensive for most people.

Few people have turned up in Harare to see if they are registered.

Thoko Kupe, an opposition MDC legislator in Bulawayo says she was unable to get a copy of the voter roll for her district. She said she has been told to travel 500 kilometers to Harare to pick one up. As a result, she says she has no way of checking whether the registration list for her district is accurate.

Ms. Kupe says the government changed the boundaries for her long established voting district for the 2005 poll which has caused confusion and she has no way of informing people of the changes.

She also says it is impossible to get permission to hold rallies and her requests for meetings have been repeatedly refused. Government restrictions on campaigning, she says, are insurmountable.

Another opposition legislator in Eastern Zimbabwe says police refused to allow him to address any political meetings after 5:00 in the afternoon or on weekends.

Priscilla Misihairabwi, an MDC legislator in a high density area in Harare, said it took eight days and immense effort before she was allowed to buy a copy of the voter roll for her district. She says government officials have refused her permission to pick up copies for colleagues far from Harare.

Voter registration lists have been one of the main points of contention in the previous two national elections. The MDC claims there are hundreds of thousands of duplicate voters on the roll.

The Southern African Development Community, SADC, pledged last August it would send observers at least 90 days before elections of member states. The SADC secretariat in Botswana did not respond to a written question on whether the Zimbabwe Government had sent it an invitation.

Several opposition legislators say they have evidence that some of their supporters have been assaulted this week when they went to check if they were registered as voters.

The opposition, says it has tried to pay for advertisements on national radio and television, but requests have been refused by the state broadcaster.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa who is responsible for steering recent electoral legislation through parliament said he was on holiday at present and therefore unable to comment. The telephones at the Registrar General's office, which runs elections, went unanswered.

The opposition MDC says it hopes that by taking part in the election it will cement the regional electoral principles signed up to by President Mugabe last August. But the opposition says it will not make a final decision to take part in the vote until after a SADC delegation visits Zimbabwe to evaluate electoral laws and processes.