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Zimbabwe police, soldiers cast early votes

Tsvangirai's MDC is trying to stop the vote claiming officers are being threatened.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is trying to stop early votes being cast by soldiers and members of the police force. He is claiming officers are being threatened to vote for President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.Picture:EWN

HARARE - Police officers and soldiers who will be on duty during Zimbabwe's election's on 31 July began voting on Sunday.

The state electoral commission says 69,000 police officers, 2,000 prison officers, 164 soldiers and thousands of election officials were taking part in a two-day special vote.

However, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has queried the police figures and has filed an application in the High Court to stop the voting.

The MDC is claiming police numbers were inflated.

It claims only 41,133 members of the police are eligible to vote, according to a Ministry of Finance salary schedule.

It also says junior officers were threatened by their superiors to rally behind President Robert Mugabe, a charge which has been dismissed by the police.

While so far largely peaceful, the election process has been criticised as being disorganised, under-funded and plagued by irregularities.

In 2008, police, soldiers and prison officials were forced to vote in front of their superiors in barracks and camps, but are now casting ballots in public polling centres monitored by all political parties and foreign observers.

Police officers could be seen at voting centres in the capital Harare queuing patiently to cast their votes.

Tsvangirai, making his third attempt to end Mugabe's long grip on power, says nothing has been set in place to ensure a vote fairer than previous elections.

He says Mugabe's ZANU-PF is using bureaucratic obstacles and tricks such as keeping dead people on the electoral roll to try perpetuate itself in power.

Mugabe, 89, has been in power for 33 years and long criticised by political rivals and the West for perceived authoritarianism.