Zimbabwe's main opposition party is challenging early voting by some police officers, which it says is part of vote-rigging efforts by the country's election body in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party.
Priscilla Chigumba, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, told reporters Friday that early voting by some police officers ahead of the July 30 general election is perfectly legal.
"The law does not stipulate that these are votes which are placed in ballot boxes. These are postal votes which are supposed to be exercised in secret and the ballot paper posted back to us using various means at their disposal. There is no role for observers, there is no role for agents, there is no role for political parties. A postal vote is exercised in secret," Chigumba said.
However, social media in Zimbabwe was awash in photos Thursday of police officers filling out ballots in front of their bosses and dropping the ballots in the mail. One officer sent a message on the Whatsapp online messaging service asking the political opposition and observers to help them because they were being forced to vote for President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Erasmus Makodza, who heads the election command within Zimbabwe's police force, denied the allegation.
"No member or officer was ever coerced to vote in front of any officer. The voting process went on smoothly. Unfortunately for some political parties, they were not privy to the Electoral Act, to the processes of how the postal vote is done," Makodza said.
Under Zimbabwean law, police officers can vote before election day if they will be deployed outside their constituencies on the day of the vote.
Tendai Biti of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, a veteran lawyer himself, agrees that police voting by mail is legal — but only under strict conditions, which he says are not being met.
"They are voting in the absence of officials from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, party agents and monitors," Biti said. "To us, this is an attempt to steal this election. And we all know that the law proscribes voting in restricted areas, in cantonment area."
Biti said on Friday the opposition has asked the country's electoral court to declare the postal votes by police unlawful.
When Mnangagwa took over from Robert Mugabe last November, he said he wanted a credible election.
However, the opposition says the ruling ZANU-PF party and security officials are manipulating the election body, just as they did when Mugabe was in power.