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Zimbabwe opposition blasts 20-fold hike in election fees
Sunday Argus (SA)
February 06, 2005

Yesterday Zimbabwe's main opposition party accused President Robert Mugabe's government of trying to subvert democracy through a 20-fold increase in the deposit fees for candidates contesting the March 31 parliamentary polls. "This is a clear attempt to use money to prevent democracy," the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) secretary-general Welshman Ncube told AFP. The government late Friday issued a notice hiking the registration fee for a candidate from 100 000 Zimbabwean dollars to two million dollars. Furthermore, candidates wishing to obtain a copy of the voters' roll will now have to pay one million dollars against 200 000 dollars earlier. The steep hike came 24 hours after the MDC, which had earlier threatened to boycott the elections, said it was contesting with "a heavy heart" despite a very flawed playing field. Ncube also indirectly accused the government of trying to fudge the voters' rolls. "It seems the government is trying to hide something because political parties that cannot afford these exorbitant fees will not be able to access the voters' rolls," he said.

Ncube said the MDC would need to raise 260 million dollars by March 8 to be able to contest in all the 120 constituencies. Under Zimbabwean law, political parties cannot receive foreign funding. The government accuses the MDC of receiving money from overseas but the party denies the allegation. The MDC received 300 million dollars from the government under a law on funding political parties, Ncube said, stressing that the going was much tougher for smaller opposition parties who got less money. "Imagine how much more difficult it is for the smaller parties," he said. Meanwhile, at least 800 000 deceased Zimbabweans are still on the country's voters' roll, which was closed for inspection on Friday, and the Mugabe regime has made no effort to correct it, says an audit by a Zimbabwean non-government organisation. Although the figure is markedly lower than the 2.4 million previously regarded as being ghost voters, it still presented a perfect opportunity for fraud in the March 31 parliamentary elections, Zimbabwean electoral organisations said.

FreeZim, a non-government organisation involved in electoral issues, said that although nearly half of Zimbabwe's 5.6 million voters were not necessarily "ghost" voters, it insisted that they remained suspect in several respects. Up to 300 000 names of voters are duplicated over and over in different constituencies, while another 900 000 people listed as eligible voters are either not known or do not live at the addresses under which their names appear. In the Harare North constituency, 50% of the voters registered do not live at the addresses under which their names appear. Under Zimbabwe's constituency-based parliamentary system, voters have to prove that they reside in a constituency before they can be registered. Once registered, they cannot vote in any other constituency. FreeZim contends that these major anomalies present major opportunities for fraud. It has submitted its report to the newly launched Zimbabwe Electoral Commission headed by pro-Mugabe High Court judge George Chiweshe. But Chiweshe's commission, which was only appointed last month and still does not have offices, staff or telephones, does not have the capacity to investigate the complaints.

Reginald Matchaba-Hove, chairman of another independent election NGO, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), said the solution would be a new computerised roll with all the necessary links to regularly update it. But the government did not seem eager to accept offers to help upgrade the role. Matchaba-Hove said: "We need a professionally computerised voters' roll which is linked to all the systems in the Registrar- General's office. If somebody dies, the death certificate does not speak to the voters' roll and that is a problem. We need a system whereby as soon as my death certificate is issued, my name gets automatically deleted." Matchaba-Hove said there was simply no time to correct anomalies, which is why the ZESN had been calling for a postponement of the election until June. Mugabe snubbed all such calls and set the election date for March 31.

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