SADC leaders approve charter on free elections

Thirteen Southern African leaders have approved a new regional charter on free and fair elections that specifies how they should be conducted to guarantee democracy, officials said on Tuesday.

At a summit on the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius, all the heads of state and government from across the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, which includes Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), gave their blessing to the charter.

They also promoted Madagascar, the large island nation off Africa’s south-east coast, to full SADC member status, but the decision to upgrade its membership will take effect only next year.

At the start of the summit on Monday, Mauritian Prime Minister Paul Berenger became the new SADC chairperson and stressed the importance of the charter, making a direct reference to Zimbabwe, whose President Robert Mugabe was present.

“With free and fair elections due in Zimbabwe at the beginning of next year, we can already start preparing for the normalisation of relations between [the] SADC, the European Union and the United States of America,” he said.

The Mauritian leader had already explained the charter, saying that “really free and fair elections mean not only an independent electoral commission but also include freedom of assembly and absence of physical harassment by the police or another entity, freedom of the press and access to national radio and television, and external and credible observation of the whole electoral process”.

Officials said on Tuesday that the leaders gathered in the town of Grande-Baie had dealt with almost all the issues on the agenda during the first day of proceedings, leaving such matters as listening to and approving a new SADC anthem for later.

Before the decision on Madagascar, the SADC comprised 13 countries representing at least 212-million people — Angola, Botswana, the DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

It was initially set up in 1979 by countries determined to form a joint economic and political front against South Africa’s apartheid regime of the time, but the advent of democracy in South Africa led to its membership, after that of newly independent Namibia and before the vast DRC. — Sapa-AFP

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