A local human rights group has given the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) a 24-hour ultimatum to relocate its polling station at the Dzivarasekwa Presidential Guard Barracks in Harare to a reasonable distance, arguing the current location was not conducive for free and fair elections.

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The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), in a petition to Zec, yesterday also demanded that the polling station be renamed, arguing the current name caused reasonable apprehension to the registered voters.

“We do note that you indicate that the polling station will not be set up inside the confines of the Presidential Guard Army Barracks, but a reasonable distance outside the army barracks.

“This is a progressive move as registered voters who had inspected the voters’ roll had done so within the confines of the army barracks and indeed there was reasonable apprehension that the polling station would be situated at the same location for the July 30, 2018 elections,” ZLHR said in a letter to Zec chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba.

While appreciating the move by Zec, the group still raised concerns on the naming of the polling station as well as its proximity to the cantonment areas in relation to provisions of the Defence Act in particular.

“We are, however, concerned that the polling station continues to be identified as the Presidential Guard Tent. We are of the view that a neutral name would have been more appropriate, for instance, identifying the polling station with the name of the street where it is located. Naming the polling station after the name of an army barracks can still cause reasonable apprehension to the registered voter and this is in contravention of section 51(1b)(d).

“Further, the Defence Act prohibits entry into cantonments [section 90(1)(2)] and further penalises loitering outside a cantonment within 10 metres of the demarcated boundary. In the interest of the safety of the voters. We therefore, implore your good offices to assure that the location will not lead to any violation of the provisions of the Defence Act as well as the Electoral Act,” the letter added.

Loitering around a prohibited distance of a cantonment area is punishable by “a fine not exceeding level five or imprisonment not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment”.

In her response to the query by ZLHR early this month, Chigumba argued the polling station was not going to be established inside the barracks.

“Please be advised that the polling station referred to will not be set-up inside the confines of the Presidential Guard Army Barracks, but a reasonable distance outside the army barracks in conformity with the provisions of the law. This will ensure accessibility to the polling station by all voters registered to vote at that polling station as well as by election agents and observers without the formalities of security vetting that are ordinarily associated with entering cantonment areas,” she said.

The ZLHR urged Zec to publicise the change of the name to the polling station to an “appropriate one”.

 

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