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Vote Counting Starts in Zimbabwe's Constitutional Referendum

Unofficial constitutional referendum results trickling in Saturday evening showed an overwhelming endorsement of the draft constitution nationwide with few people opposing the document drafted by Zimbabwe’s parliamentary constitution select committee.

In one polling station in Bulawayo’s central business district, where 1,757 people cast their votes, at least 1,637 people voted for the draft and 103 opposed it. At another polling station with 468 voters, only 82 voted against the draft charter.

According to organizations like Habakkuk Trust, Radio Dialogue, Bulawayo Agenda and several others which obtained provisional referendum results from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, most city residents backed the draft document.

Copac co-chairmen Douglas Mwonzora of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Paul Munyaradzi Mangwana of Zanu-PF, Harare and Mutare residents strongly supported the document.

Mr. Mwonzora said he was positive that people will vote overwhelmingly for the draft charter.

“For example at one polling station 231 people voted yes and only three people voted no and that is the trend nationwide,” he said.

According to Bulawayo Agenda, there were too many polling stations which were not accessible to voters, leading to polling officers spending the greater part of the day doing nothing.

“There was a lacklustre discharge of duties on the part of polling officers which led to first time voters having problems in understanding the voting procedures. For instance, a woman at Robert Tredgold Primary School proceeded to cast her ballot without even marking her vote. This will lead to a high number of spoiled ballots,” said Bulawayo Agenda spokesman, Mmeli Dube.

Mr. Dube said cases of observer harassment and intimidation were witnessed in some areas. Two local observers from his organization and the Youth Network for Alternative Development were harassed by police officers at TM Hyper polling station for carrying a camera into the polling station while a Southern African Development Community observer was also allegedly harassed at a primary school at Esigodini.

Hundreds of voters were turned away countrywide due to various reasons. In most cases they were said to be aliens or had brought drivers’ licenses, expired passports, uncertified photocopies of identity documents and employment papers instead of a state identity document or valid passport.

“For instance, 162 people were turned away in Entumbane/Emakhandeni constituency by 14:30 hrs while 95 suffered the same fate at Tegela Garage (polling station),” said Dube.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) on Saturday continued to be actively involved in following the referendum day events and providing related legal support services.

ZLHR lawyers provided legal assistance to several people who were arrested and subsequently detained as they exercised or attempted to exercise their right to vote during the referendum.

In Mashonaland West Province, four MDC-T members including Nomatter Makwasha, Vincent Mpofu, and William Zvavahera were arrested in Kariba and detained at Mahombekombe Police Station on allegations of pasting “Vote YES” campaign posters close to a polling station.

The police are reportedly looking for George Masendu in connection with the same offence. ZLHR member Tapiwa Muchineripi is attending to the detainees.

In Harare, Makario Chinongwa, ZLHR assistant advocacy officer and Tariro Mhende, the personal assistant to Director Okay Machisa, were arrested for allegedly taking pictures at a polling station at Eastridge Primary School.

The two were taken to the Law and Order section at Harare Central Police Station. Chinongwa was detained while Mhende was released after she was forced to pay an admission of guilt fine to secure her liberty.