SADC: Zim not yet ready for fair vote

Conditions are neither safe nor fair yet for a run-off election in Zimbabwe in which the opposition hopes to unseat President Robert Mugabe, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which will monitor the poll, said on Wednesday.

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai is to face Mugabe in the second round after failing to secure an absolute majority in a disputed March 29 poll. A date for the run-off has not been set.

”At the moment we can’t say the playing ground is safe or will be fair, but we are there to create a conducive environment for everybody to be confident,” SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomao told Reuters in an interview in neighbouring Mozambique.

The MDC accuses the ruling Zanu-PF of waging a campaign of violence and intimidation against its supporters as part of efforts to rig the vote. It says 32 of its supporters have been killed in the aftermath of the elections.

The government denies the charges. The state-run Herald newspaper accused Western ambassadors on Wednesday of demonising Zimbabwe’s government and ”cooking up” evidence of political violence to help the MDC remove Mugabe after 28 years in power.

SADC observed the first round of the vote in March and Salomao said it planned to send a bigger team to the run-off. Regional states are concerned turmoil and instability in Zimbabwe could spill over and take their toll on them too.

An economic meltdown in Zimbabwe has triggered inflation of 165 000%, 80% unemployment, chronic food and fuel shortages and a flood of refugees to neighbouring states.

Tsvangirai had initially said he would only contest the run-off if international observers had full access, but said on Tuesday he would be satisfied if just SADC monitors attended.

Observers, not peacekeepers

Official results of the March election show Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the presidential poll, but not by enough votes to avoid a run-off. In a parliamentary election held on the same day, Zanu-PF lost its majority to the opposition for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980.

SADC had sent 120 observers to the first round, and Salomao said it planned to send at least 200 observers to the run-off and possibly more than 300. But he ruled out sending peacekeepers as requested by Tsvangirai, and called on Zanu-PF and the MDC to help ensure the vote can proceed smoothly.

”Don’t provoke each other, stay in your corner, mobilise your fellows, present your programmes … That’s how they should behave,” he said.

The Herald accused foreign diplomats in Zimbabwe of stoking tensions.

United States ambassador James McGee and top diplomats from other countries were questioned for about 45 minutes at a police checkpoint outside the capital, Harare, on Tuesday.

They were also held up at a rural hospital where they visited victims of post-election violence and were questioned by officials about their reasons for being there. The US, which is a major donor of aid to Zimbabwe, condemned what it called ”harassment” of the diplomats.

The Herald accused the envoys of ”circumventing diplomatic protocol” and going on a ”spirited campaign to demonise the government ahead of the presidential election run-off”.

The newspaper, which tends to reflect official thinking, said the diplomats had breached a rule that prohibited them from travelling more than 40km outside Harare without prior clearance from the Foreign Ministry.

”In Zimbabwe, even mighty America is not above the law of the land. We have rules and regulations,” Mugabe spokesperson George Charamba said. — Reuters

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