/ 7 March 2008

Western monitors barred from Zim poll

European Union member states and the United States have been excluded from a list of observers who will be invited to monitor the March 29 general elections in Zimbabwe, the government announced on Friday.

Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said a number of regional bodies, such as the African Union, would be asked to oversee the joint presidential and parliamentary elections on March 29.

So, too, would representatives from allies of President Robert Mugabe’s regime such as China, Iran and Venezuela.

However, the only European country that had been invited to send monitors was Russia, while the Commonwealth was also left off the invitation list.

”Clearly, those who believe that the only free and fair election is where the opposition wins, have been excluded since the ruling party, Zanu-PF, is poised to score yet another triumph,” Mumbengegwi was quoted in the state-run Herald newspaper as telling a gathering of diplomats.

The US and EU both imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle after they alleged that he had rigged his re-election in 2002.

Mugabe pulled his country out of the Commonwealth in December 2003 after the organisation of predominantly former British colonies announced plans to extend Zimbabwe’s suspension imposed after the presidential polls.

The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) deplored what it said was a biased selection of observer groups for the latest election.

”This shows the government has a lot to hide,” MDC secretary for legal affairs Innocent Gonese said.

”If everything was being done in a fair and transparent manner, there would be no need to exclude other countries. Those who have been invited will hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil and endorse a flawed election.”

Similar criticism came from the Law Society of Zimbabwe, which said the exclusion of Western monitors highlighted the democratic deficit.

”If our systems are as democratic as we claim, why should the government want to shy away from international spotlight,” said the society’s secretary general, Chris Mhike.

”It’s not surprising, but it’s disappointing.”

Mugabe has frequently accused the West of bankrolling the MDC and of seeking regime change in Zimbabwe.

In an interview on the eve of his 84th birthday last month, Mugabe said he saw no reason why countries such as the US should monitor the ballot as Zimbabwe had never been invited to monitor elections for the White House.

The EU was also barred from observed the country’s last presidential elections in 2002.

Mugabe, who is seeking a sixth term in office after leading the Southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980, has since sought closer ties with Asia as part of a ”Look East” policy.

As well as China, Mumbengegwi said India, Malaysia and Indonesia would all be welcome to oversee the ballot. Other countries also invited to send monitors include Brazil, Nicaragua and Libya.

Among African countries on the invite list are Kenya and Nigeria, both of whom have staged elections in the last year, which were criticised as flawed.

Regional bodies invited to send observer missions include the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States and the Pan African Parliament.

Mugabe faces challenges for the presidency from both the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and from his former finance minister, Simba Makoni.


Meanwhile, an outbreak of violence in Zimbabwe is a possibility if the current situation in that country does not change, angry protesters said in Pretoria on Friday.

”If things don’t change, don’t be alarmed of a situation like [that] of Kenya,” said Sox Shitohwero, vice-chairperson of the Zimbabwean Civic Society.

Shitohwero was speaking outside the Zimbabwean High Commission, where protesters delivered a memorandum calling for free and fair elections.

However, the approximately 300 protesters were angered after no one from the commission came out to receive the memorandum.

The protesters, some Zimbabwean nationals, as well as members of the South African Communist Party threw their placards and pieces of paper on the pavement outside the commission.

Earlier on Friday, protesters handed over memoranda to the Kenyan and Swazi high commissions.

The march was organised by the Congress of South African Trade Unions.

The protesters called for the return of all Swazi exiles and that international observers be allowed to monitor the election in Zimbabwe.

The group called on the Kenyan government to allow for political, economic and social transformation within the country. — AFP, Sapa