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Last Updated: Monday, 3 November, 2003, 14:55 GMT
Was Zimbabwe's election fair?
Closed polling station in Mabvuku, Harare
Police kept some polling stations shut for several hours

As Zimbabwe's High Court starts to consider an opposition challenge against President Robert Mugabe's 2002 election victory, BBC News Online looks back at the issues raised by the different observer groups.

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

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

But this verdict was 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".

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 - were killed in the two months before the election on 9-11 March 2003.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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. Observers say this disciminated against the young and the poor.

  • 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.


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.


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