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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 14:53 GMT
Analysis: How free and fair was the poll?
Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai says he was robbed of victory

The Commonwealth group invited by the Zimbabwean authorities to observe the presidential election has strongly condemned the conduct of the poll.

Observers from a Norwegian mission and the local Zimbabwean Election Support Network (ZESN) have also issued condemnations of the election, saying it was held in a climate of fear.

This verdict is not universal - observers from Nigeria and South Africa in effect endorsed the elections, while the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) team announced that "in general the elections were transparent, credible, free and fair."

And Namibia, which also had observers in Zimbabwe, described the poll as "watertight, without room for rigging".

"Despite some pre-election violence attributed to all sorts of political actives [sic], no one group has come out with specific instances of rigging," Namibia's deputy foreign minister and observer Tuliameni Kalomoh told the BBC.

"No one has come out with specific instances where voters were deliberately denied the right to express their democratic wishes."

BBC News Online charts the issues raised by foreign and local observers.

Violence and intimidation

Kare Vollan, head of the 25-member Norwegian Observer mission, said that although there were reports of violence being carried out by both sides, there is "no doubt that the evidence is extremely clear that the majority of those cases were carried out by the ruling party".

The Commonwealth group blamed "paramilitary youth groups" for a systematic campaign of intimidation against known or suspected supporters of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

  • Human rights groups say more than 30 people - mostly opposition supporters - have been killed this year.

  • International human rights group Amnesty International says about 1,400 people - mostly opposition polling agents and monitors - were arrested during the voting period.

  • According to the ZESN - a coalition of local non-governmental organisations - in 40%-50% of rural constituencies, opposition officials were unable to oversee polling. It says they were deliberately waylaid on their way to polling stations and were subjected to violence and harassment by police and Zanu-PF militants.

Polling day

A significant reduction of stations in the cities deprived thousands of their right to vote, according to Norwegian monitors.

In particular, they criticised the way the election was conducted in the opposition strongholds of Harare and Chitungwiza.

"It is quite obvious that the capacity of the polling stations was far from what was needed to cater for the number of registered voters," Mr Vollan said.

He said the irregular closure of polling stations in those areas on the second and third days, coupled with the late opening on the third day "removed the last chance to offer all voters a fair chance to cast their vote within reasonable time".

  • The number of polling stations in urban areas and MDC strongholds was reduced by up to 50% since the 2000 parliamentary elections, according to the ZESN.

  • According to the registrar-general an additional 644 polling stations were deployed in rural areas.

  • Out of 12,500 local, trained monitors only about 400 were accredited for more than 4,500 polling stations across the country.

  • In Harare, a tripartite election - presidential, mayoral and municipal - created "chaos and confusion" local monitors say.

  • Despite a requirement in the Electoral Act to allow voters in line at the close of the polls to vote, the registrar general closed all polling stations at around 10pm on the first and second days of polling and at 7pm in Harare and Chitungwiza on the extended third day, the Norwegian mission said. Thousands of voters still in line were dispersed by the police, it said in a statement.

  • According to new rules drawn up ahead of the election, the electoral supervisory commission could only be made up of civil servants - including police officers and soldiers from the ministries of home affairs and defence - sparking allegation by local monitors that they may be susceptible to government pressure.

Voter registration

According to local election observers, the election administration had a number of shortcomings.

"Voter registration, for example, was non transparent," the ZESN's Matchabe-Hove told BBC News Online.

In particular, he pointed to changes in the Electoral Act, which he said placed significant obstacles in the way of the young and poor in urban areas, who did not have access to necessary documentation.

  • In urban areas, people were required to produce passports and utility bills to prove they have lived in their constituencies for the past 12 months.

  • In rural areas, local chiefs and village heads, often seen as being pro-government, were required to vouch for anyone registering to vote.

  • Postal votes were restricted to diplomats and members of the armed forces, disenfranchising students and workers living abroad.


A controversial bill passed in February made it an offence for independent journalists to write stories that did not meet with official approval.

During campaigning, local observers say the media was biased in favour of Mr Mugabe and denied Mr Tsvangirai the right of reply.


A law passed just ahead of the election stripped citizens with dual nationality of their right to vote.

Many blacks and whites were told that their names appeared on a list of "prohibited voters" when they turned up to vote. Although most had been informed beforehand of the decision, local observers say there was not enough time for those people to do anything about it.

The BBC's Jane Hughes
"The country's troubles are clearly not over"
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai
"This election does not reflect the true will of the people of Zimbabwe"
Zimbabwean Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo
"We will look at the comments of any invited observer"
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"The government of Zimbabwe was striving for power at all costs"

Key stories





See also:

12 Mar 02 | Media reports
11 Mar 02 | Africa
11 Mar 02 | Africa
11 Mar 02 | Africa
11 Mar 02 | UK
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