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Observer Registration Costs Restrict Monitoring of Zimbabwe Election

A non-governmental election monitoring group says up to one-third of Zimbabwe's polling stations may not have any independent observers during the March 31 general election. Each observer has to be registered and the costs of accreditation have limited the number of trained observers for the poll.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network says it cannot afford the fee the government charges for registering observers, to ensure that every polling place has an independent monitor.

The registration fee, the equivalent of about $16 (U.S.), is approximately Zimbabwe's minimum monthly wage. A spokeswoman for the network, who asked not to be named, says the total cost to accredit observers will come to $100,000 and other expenses will include deployment, training and communications.

The non-governmental organization says that as a result, it will only be able to field a maximum of 6,500 independent observers to monitor the approximately 30,000 ballot boxes nationwide.

The spokeswoman says the Ministry of Justice has not yet responded to applications for the observers' accreditation although they have to be in the field, including many remote and barely accessible areas in just 20 days.

Welshman Ncube, secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change says electoral regulations allow each political party only one election agent inside each polling station to monitor at least three lines of voters and then the counting of the ballots.

He says it is impossible to monitor so much data and procedures with only one person. The use of cellular phones and any other radio communication in the vicinity of polling stations has been banned for this election.

Foreign observers from Africa have to pay $100, if they are accepted and accredited. Observers from nations outside of Africa are charged $300.

The location and numbers of polling stations are only expected to be revealed the night before voting, and there is no rule that sites be in the same places they were in previous elections.