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Zanzibar Opposition Cries Foul As Voter Registration Is Suspended

The voter registration exercise in Zanzibar has been suspended amid fears of unrest as many people were denied registration because of lack identity card. There has been political tension since the registration of voters began on the island of Pemba in July 2009.

Hamad Rashid, a member of the opposition Civic United Front and leader of the opposition in parliament, told VOA that a constitutional change in Zanzibar that requires voters to have a residence card had led many people to be turned away at registration centers.

“It [voter registration] was suspended because there was a serious problem. Unfortunately, Zanzibar passed a residency law which requires Zanzibaris to have IDs [identity cards] and there are many people without these IDs, so we asked the Zanzibar electoral commission [ZEC] to rectify the situation first”.

Rashid explained that many people do not have residency cards because of lack of transparency, and the fact that residency cards are also linked to voter registration. “You cannot be in the voter register unless you have a residency card.” He added that this has affected registration of voters especially in Pemba where he said the opposition is strong. “There is a system of reducing the number of voters, especially in areas where we are strong. This also happened in 2005”.

He expressed concern about the high deployment of security forces in some areas during the voter registration exercise. “We are astonished when we saw not only the police but the army in areas such as Wete. We have complained about this involvement of the army in voter registration. We think their aim is to deny people the right to register”.

Rashid accused the army of involvement in planning to rig the election during registration period. “This time they have planned to rig the election during registration. So they are intimidating people not to go for registration,” he said.

He also said there might not be enough time to have everyone registered before the deadline on December 20, 2009 but hastened to add “it is better to have a free, fair and transparent election than to rash and have a problem like happened in 1995, 2000, and 2005”.

Past elections in Zanzibar have featured violence during the campaign season, the election, and especially in the days and weeks following the announcement of election results.