The world’s oldest person lives in Zimbabwe and is 141 years old. Not far behind is a 134-year-old, also from Zimbabwe.
So says the country’s voters’ registration list, which has come under sharp criticism before the July 30 elections.
This will be the first election in many years without longtime leader Robert Mugabe. He served as Zimbabwe’s president from 1987 until last year. Before that, Mugabe was prime minister -- a position he held from 1980 to 1987.
The main opposition party has called the voters’ list flawed and the clearest sign that the election’s credibility is at risk.
On Wednesday, thousands of people demonstrated in the capital, Harare. They called for more openness in the voting. The protesters danced and waved signs saying “No reforms, no elections.”
Mugabe was pressured to step down when Emmerson Mnangagwa took power in November of 2017. The new president and the election committee have promised a free and fair election. But the issues with the voters’ list have many people worried that the government is unable to end a long history of suspected cheating in elections.
The strikingly old voters are just one concern. The voters’ list shows more than 100 people registered at the same property and more than one person sharing an identification number. The Associated Press says that information comes from James Timba, the chief election agent for the main political opposition.
“We are not going to compromise,” main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa told the crowd on Wednesday. He accused the election commission, the military and Mnangagwa of trying to influence the vote.
Chamisa is in a coalition with smaller parties that also took part in the protest. They gave a petition with their demands to a representative of the election commission.
“Next time we hold a demonstration, no one is going back home until our demands are met. We will camp here,” Chamisa said.
The opposition distrusts the production of ballots, their storage, design and even the quality of the paper.
Public trust in the election is so low that the opposition now tells people to bring their own writing instruments when they vote because they lack trust in the ones being provided.
Emmerson Mnangagwa is a longtime ally of Mugabe. The new president is under pressure to have a free and fair election as a way to end international sanctions.
Accusations of cheating and violence were a problem in Zimbabwe’s earlier elections. Mugabe banned Western election observers, but Mnangagwa has welcomed them for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Observers from the European Union and United States have raised concerns that are similar to the opposition’s claims. But the election campaign has been largely free of violence.
Mnangagwa, his ruling ZANU-PF party and the election commission are defending the credibility of the vote. Commission chairwoman Priscilla Chigumba has rejected the opposition demands, which include touching the ballot paper or looking at it closely. Party representatives were permitted to see the ballots being made from a distance last month, she said.
Political parties physically inspecting the ballot paper is unlawful, Chigumba, a former High Court judge, told reporters on Monday. She said the opposition’s demands are “an abuse of the right to transparency.”
She also has denied problems with the voters’ registration list, which was released to opposition parties and the public only after pressure and a court ruling.
Elections officials have said they will correct mistakes with the voters’ list. The story of the single property with more than 100 registered voters is, in fact, a religious center with 122 voters, Chigumba said.
Building public trust in the weeks before the vote will be difficult. A study released over the weekend found that 58 percent of registered voters do not trust the elections commission. Researchers spoke with more than 1,600 people from Bulawayo, an opposition center, and Midlands province, which has a mix of opposition and ruling party supporters.
While Mugabe is gone, “the regime remains,” said Munyaradzi Gwisai, a political expert who teaches law at the University of Zimbabwe. He added, “If anything, the hard men and hard women of that regime are the ones who have taken power and they are now in charge, so very little has changed.”
I’m Ashley Thompson.
The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
flaw – n. a small fault or weakness
credibility – n. the quality of being believed or accepted as true, real, or honest
petition – n. a written document that people sign to show that they want a person or organization to do or change something
sanction – n. an action to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country
transparent – adj. honest and open; not secretive
regime – n. a form of government