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Zimbabwe Poll Wards Puzzle Observers

FILE: A glacier in Half Moon Bay, Antarctica, February 18, 2018.
FILE: A glacier in Half Moon Bay, Antarctica, February 18, 2018.

Civic activists in Zimbabwe are voicing fears of voting confusion and irregularities after an analysis of electoral boundaries redrawn ahead of a national vote showed some wards to be located in Antarctica.

In February, election authorities in the southern African nation released a report demarcating wards and constituencies - but some of those appeared to fall outside the country's borders.

In dozens of cases, coordinates provided by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) pointed to locations in distant places like Antarctica and the middle of the Indian Ocean as well as in neighboring South Africa and nearby Zambia, according to Team Pachedu, a pressure group.

"It's crazy... There are so many mistakes and irregularities," William du Plooy, an activist with the group, told AFP.

This had some implications for voters, who might not know in which constituency their village or town falls, and candidates, who might end up wasting time campaigning to the wrong audience, he said.

Asked whether this cast doubts on the overall regularity of the upcoming vote, du Plooy replied: "I definitely think so".

ZEC did not reply to a request for comment.

In an interview with AFP last month, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said Zimbabwe's electoral process was "littered with rigging, manipulation".

In another twist this week, a court blocked the release of voters' rolls in electronic format, something that critics say curtails scrutiny of possible irregularities, as paper copies are expensive and hard to analyze.

Rights groups and opposition parties have complained of an increased government clampdown on dissent as the country heads towards the vote.

Last week, police cut short a live performance near Harare by popular musician Winky D, who sings about politics and corruption in his latest album, ferrying the artist off stage.

Overall, Team Pachedu said it found demarcation issues in about 50 of Zimbabwe's 210 constituencies.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced long-time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017, faces widespread discontent as he struggles to ease entrenched poverty, end chronic power cuts and economic hardships.