HARARE (Reuters) - President Robert Mugabe's rivals said on Wednesday the chaotic organization of early voting for soldiers and police showed Zimbabwe was not ready for a July 31 general election in which more than six million people are registered to vote.
Mugabe's main rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, told a rally that the long queues seen during two days of special voting for 70,000 police officers and soldiers clearly showed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was ill-prepared.
"They failed to conduct the special vote and we wonder how are they going to run the bigger general election. We have always said the question of elections should not be about dates but processes," he told thousands at a campaign rally.
In a statement acknowledging what she called "logistical challenges", ZEC chairwoman Rita Makarau apologized for the fact that some police officers and soldiers were unable to vote.
ZEC officials say the delays arose primarily from the late printing of ballot papers following court challenges by candidates.
Voters spent hours in queues and some ballot papers only reached polling stations late on Monday, forcing voting to spill into Tuesday. Even then, some were unable to cast their vote, the officials said.
"The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission sincerely regrets the inconvenience caused," Makarau said, adding that those who had failed to vote could vote on general election day at the end of the month.
Parties seeking to end Mugabe's 33-year grip on power in the former British colony condemned both the Commission and the President for rushing to the polls, arguing that logistical problems are likely to undermine the credibility of the result.
"The shambolic process of the special vote is a serious indictment on the ability to produce an electoral process whose outcome is not going to be contested," said Nhlanhla Dube, spokesman for a breakaway faction of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change.
The United States said on Tuesday it was "deeply concerned" by lack of transparency in preparations for the election and called on Harare to ensure the vote was peaceful, fair and credible.
(Reporting by Cris Chinaka; Editing by Ed Cropley and Andrew Roche)