Editorial: Our eyes must be on Zim election

With eyes of the world focused elsewhere, a crisis looms across the Limpopo.

Zimbabwe is heading for elections on July 31 and every indication is of a poll that will be not only shambolic, but intrinsically unfair.

The outcome of the last two elections in Zimbabwe were fiercely disputed it would be tragic if the result once again left thecountry in limbo. Equally unacceptable would be a façade of legitimacy over another stolen election.

On Sunday and Monday a special vote for the uniformed forces was a harbinger of what may happen in a fortnight.

Policemen and women queued on both days and many were eventually turned away because there were no ballot papers at polling stations.

Given that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was unable to organize a smooth vote for  just 80 000 over two days, how can it be expected to handle six million voters in one day come July 31?

Shadowy Israeli-intelligence
That ZEC has no money to carry out the harmonised election is a matter of record. Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Tendai Biti again this week said the cash was not available.

Further worries surround the integrity of the voters' roll, which is managed by Nikuv, a shadowy Israeli-intelligence linked company hired by Harare.

Compared to 2008, there are far fewer incidences of violence being reported, but the ground for a disputed result has certainly been laid. As the M&G has previously reported, there is evidence too, of serious deficiencies in the roll that could prevent hundreds of thousands of people from voting.

And needless to say, crucial reforms necessary to a credible election – not least to media and security laws – could not be carried out in the impossibly short time available.

Using a supreme court bench that is stuffed with Zanu-PF loyalists, Mugabe has successfully stampeded the nation into a poll where many will be disenfranchised.

If the election is stolen, either subtly or outright, however, there is a real risk that it will pass without any effective international response.

The United Nations is preoccupied by the humanitarian and security crisis in Syria. The African Union has already signaled a "hands off" approach to Zimbabwe, and the key western powers can spare no energy from the Middle East for fresh distractions.

Regional body
That leaves the Southern African Development Community, and South Africa. Having signed off as the guarantor on the Global Political Agreement that gave birth to Zimbabwe's unity government, the regional body remains crucial as a midwife to these elections.

The SADC troika on Zimbabwe meets this weekend, and it must answer the question of ensuring that the election is as free and fair as possible, and what it will do if it is not.

Throwing money at the problem at this late stage will barely assist. A threat of suspension may not worry Mugabe, who has already threatened to pull Zimbabwe out of the regional body, but it is a tool that must be considered.

Crucially, SADC observers must be prepared to give to the world a credible account of the election, and to demand an appropriate global response if it is derailed. Observers must be highly visible, and highly responsive, to guard against both rigging or any deterioration of the security situation.

South Africa, too, must front up. The most powerful country in the region is talking tougher than it has in the past. It must now be prepared to back up that stance.

It is here in the region that the impact of new instability in Zimbabwe will be felt, and it is the region that must work – regardless of the odds – to contain it.

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