Pemba voter registration exercise still suspended

By Njonanje Samwel
14th September 2009

The registration of eligible residents of Pemba Island in the Permanent Voters’ Register stood suspended for the second day running yesterday following sporadic scuffles between civilians and riot police.

Sources said the heavy police presence at various designated registration centres was reported to have fuelled acts of open defiance among opposition Civic United Front supporters in North Pemba Region, and hence the decision to halt the exercise.

The chaotic situation lasted about two hours and paralysed activities at Kiuyu Minungwini village, with local residents expressed resentment and fear over the presence of the riot police and therefore not daring to going out for their routine activities.

The residents demanded explanation following reports that CUF members were denied the right to acquire Zanzibar residence identity cards, which have to be presented for all those seeking registration for the 2010 general election.

Wete District Commissioner Omari Khamis Othman confirmed that unidentified people set ablaze several houses at Penjewani village in Ole constituency on Saturday night, mainly the property of CUF supporters, causing mayhem.

Bakari Hamad Amiri and Simai Bakari Simai, both said to be agents of the opposition party, claimed to have been whipped and injured in the incident – which they blame on the ruling CCM.

Our reporter, who was among local observers of the exercise, saw riot police moving to disperse people trying to line up in front of a registration office.

Scores of Kiuyu Minungwini residents could be heard chanting pro-democracy slogans that heaped blame on the Isles government.

When things started turning dangerously nasty, Wete Officer Commanding District (OCD) Salehe Mohamed Saleh ordered police and members of the Zanzibar anti-smuggling unit (KMKM) to keep a low profile and employ minimum force as they sought to keep the situation in check.

However, police arrested a number of people and took a them way for questioning.

Kiuyu Minungwini resident Fatuma Ally Hamad said the heavy police presence had worsened the situation, “effectively depriving us of the opportunity to register for next year’s elections”.

But Mariam Abdallah Mohamedi, who said she was in charge of the area registration centre, explained that not a single person had turned up for registration since yesterday morning. She was contacted late in the afternoon and said she was about to knock off.

Asked about the reported “uncharacteristically heavy” police presence in the area, the Wete OCD said that he was not the spokesperson on matters happening in Wete and that journalists should seek clarification from the Pemba North Regional Police Commander.

“I would be only too happy to answer your questions but we have been told that all queries concerning Pemba should be answered or be sanctioned by the regional police commander…So, please contact him and he should be in a better position to give you the answers you need,” he said.

The Pemba North RPC, Yahya Bugi, meanwhile told journalists that he was not aware of the incidents referred to and would give details “soon after getting the relevant information from my subordinates”.

Wete DC Othman admitted having been notified that one house had been burnt to ashes in Kiuyu Minungwini area.

Following Saturday’s commotion could deal the whole registration exercise a serious blow because the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) had decided that the exercise should take no more than seven days. The first two days (Saturday and Sunday) have already been wasted.

Mwinyi Sadallah meanwhile reports from Zanzibar that seven people have been arrested in different locations in Unguja, with Unguja North RPC Masoud Mtulia saying all had “refused to obey police orders requiring them to disperse after being denied registration because they had no residents’ IDs”.

He added that the situation in Zanzibar remained generally calm “despite some few problems which we are working on”.

ZEC re-introduced the registration exercise after CUF claimed that its members in Pemba were being denied the Zanzibar citizenship registration, and thus being rendered ineligible to vote in next year’s general elections and paving the way for easy victory the ruling CCM.

Source: The Guardian

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