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Pretoria News

 

Despite hassles, election was free and fair
By Eleanor Momberg and Patrick Hlala
April 15, 2004

South Africa's third democratic elections have been described as free, fair and peaceful by foreign observers.

This, despite a number of problems which were experienced at polling stations nationwide.

While political parties expressed their satisfaction with the enthusiasm shown by voters, some lodged formal complaints with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), asking it to probe allegations of vote rigging, intimidation, theft of ballot papers and campaigning inside polling stations.

When polling stations closed at 9pm hundreds of people still in queues at the cut-off were allowed to cast their ballots. This included voters at Soweto and Roodepoort stations, which had been affected by a power failure.

The counting of results started soon after 9pm at most stations, with the first results posted at 10.30pm. According to the scoreboard at the Results Operations Centre in Pretoria, the African National Congress won the vote in Dysseldorp in the Eastern Cape by 194 votes. The Democratic Alliance mustered 56 votes, the New Labour Party 25 and the New National Party 18.

Namibia's Director of Elections, who was part of an independent group of election observers, told the Pretoria News he was "impressed" by what he had seen during their visits to rural polling stations in the Hammanskraal region, as well as Soweto.

"All the polling stations we visited were quite good. They were managed effectively," he said shortly before the cut-off time for voting.

Burundi Peace and Reconciliation Conflict Resolution chairperson Bishop Simeon Nzishura said he was expecting to see a "good" election result.

"I think the way the elections were organised is good. Everywhere we visited in Soweto it pleased me to see people going into the lines without fighting," he said.

Nzishura, who headed a delegation of six members, said he believed the elections were free and fair. Burundi, he said, could learn from South Africa.

Chief electoral officer Pansy Tlakula said on Wednesday afternoon several problems had been experienced during the day.

Allegations of election irregularities by the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal which were made by IFP deputy chairan Reverend Musa Zondi, were being investigated by the IEC. "We are waiting for a report," she said.

Also being probed by the IEC was an IFP complaint lodged after it said a BBC journalist had witnessed ANC activists inserting bar-coded stickers into identity documents, which apparently enabled some KwaZulu-Natal voters to vote.

The ANC, said Tlakula, had written to her distancing itself from any form of vote-rigging. The ANC said in the letter it had asked the police to investigate the matter, and it would co-operate fully with the probe.

A report was also still being awaited late on Wednesday night of the outcome of an investigation in which the DA was alleged by the ANC to have placed stickers in voters' ID books.

ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said that matter was a police and Department of Home Affairs issue as it fell within the ambit of the Identity Act of 1997.

Tlakula said in another instance the IEC had to remind electoral officers to stamp voters' ID books as proof that they had cast their ballots, after it emerged that this had not been done in some instances.

In the Northern Cape, five ballot books with 100 ballot papers each were missing. This alleged theft was being investigated by the police.

A presiding officer and his deputy were arrested in the Morokweng area of North West Province on Tuesday after 20 ballot papers were stolen. These were returned on Wednesday morning.

IEC chairperson Brigalia Bam said the process of allowing people on duty outside their voting districts on election day to vote elsewhere under certain conditions would be reviewed following the number of problems experienced countrywide on Wednesday.

"There are those people, like me, who believe sincerely that people on duty for reasons beyond their choice must have the opportunity to vote. We are going to re-evaluate this," she said.

Tlakula was upbeat about the election process, saying all indications were that the elections had gone well.

 


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