published : 2023-08-25

Zimbabwe Detains 41 Poll Monitors, Allege Plot to Manipulate Votes for Opposition

Detained monitors were purportedly engaging in 'subversive and criminal activities’, states police spokesperson

A stern-faced Zimbabwe police officer in uniform, presumably at a polling station, with voting materials visible in the background. (taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

In a sweeping clampdown, Zimbabwe police have taken 41 poll-viewing individuals into custody, accusing them of conspiring to manipulate vote count in favor of the opposition in the nation's much-delayed presidential election.

Seized from the detained monitors were their computers and tools used for documenting the vote tallying process.

These individuals were associated with two approved monitoring institutions - the Election Resource Center and the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network - who had deployed over 7,500 observers nationwide.

Paul Nyathi, the police spokesperson, alleges their involvement in 'subversive and criminal activities' to forge the election results.

According to Nyathi, 'These figures were being supplied by some observers and political party agents'.

The arrests were met with stern criticism from human rights group - Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights - asserting that the detained individuals were acting in their rightful capacity as approved election observers.

Zimbabwe's history of controversial elections has caused skepticism about official result announcements.

The incumbent President, 80-year-old Emmerson Mnangagwa, seeking a consecutive term, claimed the power to stretch the polling to Thursday night in several polling stations after heavy delays, in some cases up to 10 hours.

A wide shot of frustrated voters waiting in line at a polling station in Harare, Zimbabwe. Capture the essence of slight confusion and chaos. A person is seen arguing with uniformed officers. (taken with Nikon D850)

Mnangagwa’s primary challenger, the 45-year-old lawyer Nelson Chamisa, who lost narrowly in the contentious 2018 election, refuted the legitimacy of the voting process, associating the protracting delays to intentional voter disfranchisement in his urban strongholds.

As of late Wednesday, when the voting should have ended, ballot papers were still in print.

Meanwhile, tallying of ballots had begun in some polling stations.

While some frustrated voters decided to sleep overnight at the polling stations in Harare, the capital, others kept warm by lighting fires and snuggling under blankets.

'This is the first time in my life seeing a situation where people cannot vote because papers are not there. It’s not making sense.', recounted Cadwell Munjoma, who was in line at a polling station in Mabelreign, a middle-class suburb.

Following the vote count, the opposition and various civic organizations stated they would independently tabulate results that are posted outside polling stations.

Despite foreign concern about the credibility of the voting process, Mnangagwa touted Zimbabwe as a 'master' of democracy and criticized Western nations that expressed skepticism.

In the cities of Harare and others, ballot paper shortages led to people clashing and shouting at election officials and police officers. Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi was quoted as saying ballot paper printing would be completed late on Wednesday night.

Nelson Chamisa, Zimbabwean opposition leader, standing with a thoughtful expression and a backdrop of a Zimbabwean cityscape. (taken with Sony Alpha a7 III)

At some locations, voting was suspended and people were asked to return in the morning.

Some voters remained overnight, urging their neighbors and family members who had left to return and prepare to vote.

Numerous court challenges on who could run in both presidential and parliamentary elections resulted in the late distribution of ballot papers, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission admitted, blaming it on printing delays.

This election is the second since the take-down of long-standing ruler Robert Mugabe in a coup in 2017.

Zimbabwe, a southern African nation with about 15 million people and rich mineral resources, has been alleged by watchdogs for widespread corruption and mismanagement, frustrating the potential growth of the country.

The opposition and rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, accused Mnangagwa of trying to silence dissent as the nation grapples with a currency crisis, a spike in food prices, a dwindling public health system, and a lack of formal jobs.

Although he was a close ally of Mugabe and served as vice president before a fallout ahead of the 2017 coup, Mnangagwa has portrayed himself as a reformer, yet many accuse him of being even more repressive.

Zimbabwe has faced two decades of sanctions from the United States and European Union over allegations of human rights abuses, forcefully denied by the ruling party. Mnangagwa continues to criticize the West, echoing Mugabe's rhetoric, accusing them of attempting to unseat his regime.