SADC has failed us, says Zim NGO

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has used massive bribery, grossly-biased state media and inflammatory language to ensure he wins next week’s polls and the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) grouping has not been able to stop him, a local rights body said on Thursday.

”The SADC initiative has failed to achieve its objective of establishing an electoral environment in Zimbabwe in which free and fair elections will take place,” the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO forum said in a lengthy pre-election report.

South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki mediated talks between Zimbabwe’s government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) last year, wresting a number of concessions from both parties ahead of the March 29 national polls.

But, the forum said, the 84-year-old Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF still refuse to accept that Zimbabweans ”have the right to freely choose whom to elect into government”.

It said Zanu-PF continues to intimidate the opposition and voters, charges levelled against the party in previous contested elections in 2000, 2002 and 2005.

Mugabe will stand in next week’s polls against Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC for the second time.

The longtime Zimbabwean leader has two other contenders: former finance minister Simba Makoni and the little-known Langton Towungana, an independent candidate from Victoria Falls.

Pointing to the recent handouts of farm machinery and pay hikes for civil servants, the forum said Mugabe had engaged in ”massive vote-buying”.

When challenged on the legality of the handouts in view of the imminent polls, the head of the state Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), George Chiweshe, said he was ”unable to comment on issues like that because they are of a political nature”, the forum said.

It also lambasted Mugabe’s use of derogatory language when referring to Tsvangirai and Makoni and his use of state media that has provided only very negative coverage of the MDC.

Statements by defence chiefs that they would only accept Mugabe as president amount to treason and a threat to stage a military coup, the forum said.

A recent private opinion poll showed Tsvangirai to be in the lead with more than 28% of the vote against just over 20% for Mugabe.

Tsvangirai threatens to withdraw

Meanwhile, Tsvangirai threatened Thursday to withdraw from the poll if the government fails to follow electoral law on the vote count.

Tsvangirai claimed at a press conference that electoral authorities were planning to carry out the count in a ”national command centre”, instead of in each of the country’s 11 000 polling stations.

”We now hear the counting of house of assembly and senate [the lower and upper chambers in the legislature respectively] votes will be in constituency centres, and the presidential vote will be counted in a national command centre,” he told a press conference, without elaborating on the source of the information.

”If that happens I will not participate in such a process.”

According to election watchdog groups, the command centre was the final stage in the result process, staffed largely by military officers, and where results in previous elections had been changed to suit Mugabe. The command centre does not appear in electoral law.

Tsvangirai also said that the election would not be free and fair, but added, ”we accept all that,” and said the MDC had been hoping to ”minimise” abuses and irregularities.

Zimbabwean electoral law prescribes counting of ballot papers for candidates in each of the elections to be carried out in the polling stations where the ballots were cast. The totals for all candidates then have to be written out and stuck on the door of the polling station as public notices.

Tsvangirai also highlighted Mugabe’s use of extraordinary ”presidential powers” published on Wednesday that abolished a new electoral reform that excluded police from being present in polling stations.

”We know that they will be CIO [Central Intelligence Organisation, Mugabe’s secret police], military and militia [ruling party youth militia] in police uniform,” he said.

He described the voters’ roll as ”a shambles”, and said investigations had revealed irregularities where football fields and empty housing lots were used as addresses for fictional voters.

He also cited an analysis by a local research body of the number of voters in 28 constituencies which showed that the total number of voters claimed in the constituencies by the ZEC, was 90 000 more than were on the actual roll.

”With 210 [parliamentary] constituencies, you can imagine the total number of people that don’t exist.”

He also produced a letter which he claimed was a copy of an order from ZEC to the state mint to produce 600 000 postal votes. Mugabe has banned ordinary Zimbabweans residing outside the country from casting postal votes, and given the right only to diplomats and members of the uniformed services.

”The total number of army, police and diplomats [abroad] do not exceed 20 000,” he said.

Tsvangirai also said that the mint had been ordered to print nine million ordinary ballot papers, when there were 5,9-million people on the voters roll.

”What for?” he asked.

Free and fair

For their part, the SA government on Thursday urged all Zimbabweans to ensure that they create conditions for free and fair elections on Saturday.

”The South African government appeals to all Zimbabweans to do everything in their power to create conditions that would ensure free and fair elections,” said the South African government statement released after a Cabinet meeting.

”Our sole interest as a government at this moment is to see that a free and fair election prevails in Zimbabwe and that is why we have sent a team of observers to that country for that purpose,” said government spokesperson Themba Maseko.

Maseko declined to comment on Tsvangirai’s allegations of vote-rigging. – Sapa, Sapa-DPA

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