Election officials in Zimbabwe are counting ballots in the country's controversial presidential election. Before the results are even known, two independent civic groups are condemning the elections as terminally flawed.
The ballot-counting had barely begun when independent civic groups began blasting the Zimbabwean presidential election as unfree and unfair.
Two independent Zimbabwean groups that have been observing the poll say tens of thousands of people were unable to vote. They say that is especially true in Harare and the nearby city of Chitungwiza, where voting was extended by one day to allow more people to cast their ballots. People waited in slow-moving lines for as long as three days, but were still turned away when the polls were finally closed at 7:00 p.m. local time Monday.
"Even as the vote-counting begins, tens of thousands of Zimbabweans have been deliberately and systematically disenfranchised of their fundamental rights to participate in the governance of their country," said Reginald Matchaba-Hove of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network. "Without the participation of the full electorate, there can be no democracy."
Mr. Matchaba-Hove said this was by far the most flawed election in Zimbabwe's 20 years of independence. "There is no way that these elections can be described as substantially free and fair. Whereas before we have complained about the conduct of elections, in real terms they were relatively well run on the days of polling. But on this occasion, for the first time, the Friday and the polling days, Saturday and Sunday, and the additional polling day in Harare and Chitungwiza, was chaotic, filled with lots of confusion. We have never seen such a poorly organized election," he said.
Another civic organization, the Crisis in Zimbabwe Group, said, "the election well has been poisoned to such an extent that there is unlikely to be any other result" than a victory for incumbent President Robert Mugabe.
Both civic groups are coalitions of many other smaller organizations dealing with human rights issues in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Election Support Network had about 300 observers formally accredited to monitor the voting, and hundreds more unofficial election observers.
But the group says its observers have been targeted for harassment and arrest. It says 150 of them are still in jail in Manicaland province alone.
The two groups warn the government that if the Zimbabwean people see the election as rigged, it could lead to civil unrest. "We believe that government, to its own peril, would risk not listening to the people. The patience of the people has been drawn to a very thin thread, and transparent electoral processes were perhaps one of the last opportunities we had to resolve conflict in a peaceful manner," said Mr. Matchaba Hove.
A spokesman for the ruling ZANU-PF party denies that there has been any rigging. Spokesman Jonathan Moyo said the party would not be able to rig an election even if it wanted to. He said the ZANU-PF is confident of victory, but only because its voters went to the polls in large numbers.