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Civic Observer Group Cites Irregularities In Zimbabwe Rural Balloting

A final report on Zimbabwe's recent rural council elections from the Zimbabwe Election Support Network cites irregularities including a flawed nomination process, unsealed ballot boxes, the exclusion of observers from polling stations and counting rooms and a "disturbing" number of voters turned away on arbitrary grounds.

The nongovernmental organization said polling was mostly peaceful and calm in the eight provinces where it was able to deploy approximately 500 observers.

But ZESN noted that at least 454 candidates of the ruling ZANU-PF party took seats unopposed because candidates of opposition parties, in particular the Movement for Democratic Change in its two factions, were disqualified on arbitrary grounds - for instance, presenting a passport instead of a national identification card.

"ZESN is deeply concerned at the numerous bottlenecks that make participation in elections either as a candidate or a voter extremely difficult," the report said, calling on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to standardize and simplify requirements.

Reached for comment, Electoral Commission Chairman George Chiweshe said he had not yet seen the report thus could not comment. He said his commission is working on its own report, which will remain confidential until it is tabled in parliament.

ZESN Chairman Reginald Matchaba-Hove told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that while his organization fielded only 500 observers - it put thousands in the field during the 2005 general election - the group's observations indicate that more needs to be done to ensure elections are free and fair.

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