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How will Zanu-PF cheat?
By Peta Thornycroft, The Sunday Independent (UK)
March 27, 2005

So how is Zanu-PF going to cheat? That is the question on many lips ahead of Thursday's national poll.

If Zanu-PF wins as most predict, no one, including observers (of whom there will only be enough to cover two thirds of the polling stations), the few accredited foreign diplomats or, most importantly, the people, will ever know if the ruling party beat the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) fairly and squarely.

"It's all in the voters' roll, stupid!" said an MDC candidate cheerfully when asked the "how-will-they-cheat" question in Bulawayo this week.

As of last week, the roll had 5,7 million registered voters, according to the Zimbabwe Election Commission, which said it closed registration for Thursday's election on February 4. (The commission is the legal mouthpiece for several other authorities that are really running the poll.)

It has grown by more than 100 000 in the past three weeks.

The Zimbabwe government has persistently refused the MDC access to two CD-roms that hold all the information on the voters' roll.

To audit the voters' roll for duplications of unique identity numbers, therefore, the MDC has to lug several kilograms of faint print-outs to check the veracity of the information.

Its private-sector data consultants say they have the software in place to check for duplications to audit the roll electronically within 48 hours of receiving the CDs.

The MDC says the accurate figure for the voters' roll should be 3,2 million based on the census of 2002 and extrapolating statistics collected door to door of people not known at addresses given on the roll in a mix of a dozen rural and urban constituencies ahead of Thursday's poll.

In a densely populated block in a constituency in Harare the MDC says it found that 64 percent of registered voters were not known at their given addresses after a laborious house-by-house audit.

The University of Zimbabwe's statistics department generously estimated that the voters' roll could be as high as 4,6 million, if 80 percent of youngsters had registered as soon as they had turned 18.

The university statistics did not estimate the huge numbers who have left Zimbabwe since the study was done nearly four years ago, nor the rising toll of HIV and Aids and the decreasing life expectancy, now down to about 35, according to the World Health Organisation.

On Thursday people will vote at more than 8 000 polling stations, with three queues at each station and only one polling agent to monitor all the processes, such as checking ID numbers, on one day.

The polling agent is not permitted to use a cellphone or any other means of communication to report any hitches during voting, or to let anyone know the results immediately after counting ends at the polling station.

That information will be telephoned through by the government's presiding officers to the 2005 command centre in Harare, staffed by the same people as in 2002, but now called the National Logistics Committee.

And, in case that information worries conscientious observers, there is more.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said last week that voter registration was continuing. It said those who registered after February 4 would not be allowed to vote on Thursday. But it also said that anyone whose name did not appear on the roll, but had a receipt from registration officials showing that they should be a voter, could bring their receipt along on Thursday, and they would be allowed to cast their ballot.

The voters' roll, therefore, has a wide variety of rigging options in each and every constituency, but particularly in rural areas, and only analysis of the electronic version of the voters' roll would allow Zimbabweans and the world to know whether voting and counting on March 31 was accurate.

Jonathan Moyo, who is standing as an independent candidate, said this week that having only one polling agent for three polling queues invited rigging. Moyo is also unhappy about the voters' roll, although he saw no problems in 2002 when he was information minister.

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