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Supreme Court Denies 3.5 Million Zimbabweans Abroad From Voting

The Zimbabwe Supreme Court has ruled that the more than 3.5 million Zimbabwean residents living abroad cannot vote in parliamentary and presidential elections.

Announcing the ruling, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku dismissed the application by a group of Zimbabweans living abroad demanding that they be allowed to vote in the March 31 parliamentary election saying the application had no merit. Mr. Chidyausiku said he would give the full reasons for the ruling later.

The applicants calling themselves the Diaspora Vote Action Group said their right to vote had been violated when the government said Zimbabweans outside the country could only cast their ballots in their constituencies back home.

When the group made its application earlier this year, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa dismissed it as frivolous and vexatious saying members of the group and others were free to come back home and vote. He said the country's constitution only allows people to vote in their own constituencies.

He also told the state controlled Herald daily newspaper then that even if the constitution allowed people abroad to vote, officials could not travel to countries such as Britain and the United States where there is a sizable Zimbabwean presence because senior members of the government are banned from entering these countries.

But the lawyer for the Diaspora Vote Action Group Beatrice Mtetwa argued that the ban imposed by some western countries for alleged human rights abuses by the Zimbabwean government only supplies to senior members of the ruling party. Also, she said, there are many Zimbabweans in countries where there is no ban on those on the list.

Zimbabwe has in the past few years experienced a mass exodus of its population because of its political and economic problems. Estimates put the number of Zimbabweans who have sought a better life elsewhere at as many as 3.5 million, or more than 20 percent of the population.

The government has been on an aggressive campaign to get Zimbabweans in the diaspora to send much needed foreign currency through official channels rather than using the parallel market. Those demanding the vote say if the government wants their money, it should also allow them to vote.

Analysts say the government is afraid that should foreign-based Zimbabweans be allowed to vote, they will tip the scales in favor of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.