US observers hope Zimbabwe polls will be fair

Karen Bass
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HARARE – An international mission of election observers says Zimbabwe has made progress toward holding a credible election on Monday, but that significant concerns remain, including state media bias toward the ruling party and problems with the layout of ballot papers.

US Republican Karen Bass, a leader of the mission of the Washington-based International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, said on Sunday that there are “red flags” in the organisation of the election but that she hopes for a peaceful outcome reflecting the will of most Zimbabweans.

She says she is encouraged by a freer political environment in Zimbabwe as well as the introduction of biometric voter registration, even if “there are concerns with that as well.”

Johnnie Carson, a former US ambassador to Zimbabwe also on the mission, says there are problems with the ballot papers, which are required by law to have a single column of names of presidential candidates in alphabetical order.

However, he says, the names are instead broken into two columns of 14 and nine names, with President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the top of the second column – a spot that would presumably make it easier for people to vote for him.

Carson says election commission officials told the mission that they formatted the ballot papers that way so they wouldn’t overrun their budget.

Mnangagwa, who took power after the resignation in November of longtime leader Robert Mugabe, has promised a free and fair election. The main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, says the election commission is biased against the opposition and that he expects the vote to be flawed. – AP