All eyes on Norton election

HARARE - On the backdrop of violence and widespread intimidation, election watch-group — Zimbabwe Elections Support Network (Zesn) — has heavily deployed its observers to monitor the situation in Norton, as the constituency votes to choose a new MP today.

Zesn is a grouping of 34 non-governmental organisations focused on electoral issues.

“Zesn is deploying 72 election observers comprising static (polling station-based observers), constituency and mobile observers.

“Zesn will have a polling station-based observer at each of the 56 polling stations in the constituency,” the organisation said in a statement.

“The election observation methodology allows the network to measure the by-election processes’ compliance with the Constitution and Electoral Laws to enable informed advocacy interventions for electoral reforms,” it said.

Zesn said it “notes that the general political-electoral environment in the run-up to the by-election has been marred by allegations of violence, intimidation, defacing of campaign materials and vote-buying through the allocation of residential stands and partisan food distribution”, adding that it is “calling upon the electorate and the contestants in the constituency to ensure that peace prevails during the by-election”.

After months of campaigning, Zanu PF’s Ronald Chindedza and independent candidate Temba Mliswa will finally lock horns today, in a contest that also includes little-known National Constitutional Assembly’s representative, David Chingodzo.

In a fierce crusade for Chindedza, the ruling Zanu PF has not only deployed its heavy weights — Vice Presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko — but also parcelled out thousands of residential stands and other freebies to the electorate ahead of the litmus polls.

Yesterday, Mliswa — a former Zanu PF legislator and staunch President Robert Mugabe supporter — said the by-election was a “chance for people to speak”.

“Despite the intimidation, people have a chance to speak. These economic hardships have brought Zimbabweans together and this is also a test for the broad coalition, this is a test, this is not about Temba Mliswa, it is about change.

“The demonstrations that have been happening will see Zanu PF losing in the ballot, Zanu PF will pay dearly,” he said.

Chindedza was not available for comment and had not responded to texted questions by the time of going to print.

Major political parties, including the Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, boycotted the Norton by-election in protest over what they called “non-implementation of requisite electoral reforms”.

However, opposition parties united under the National Electoral Reform Agenda banner have thrown their weight behind Mliswa, whose supporters have been systematically harassed ahead of today’s by-election.

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