SADC must supervise Zim polls: NGOs

By Edward Jones

HARARE - Zimbabwe's civic society pressure group, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said yesterday the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) should monitor the country's next vote to stop violence which has scarred past elections, an idea that President Robert Mugabe is likely to reject.

The southern African state could hold the next general election as early as next year if the coalition government formed in 2009 successfully holds a referendum on a new constitution.

Mugabe's ZANU-PF party is accused of resorting to violence to remain in power since 2000, which has seen senior party members being slapped with financial and travel sanctions by the European Union and United States.

Crisis, which is a coalition of several human rights and pro-democracy NGOs including the labour and student movement, said a meeting of SADC leaders last week in the Namibian capital Windhoek had failed to come up with a clear roadmap towards the next Zimbabwe election to ensure it is radically different from 2008.

"Owing to superficial reforms, Zimbabwe's institutions remain too weak and compromised to prevent state-sponsored violence or to deliver a democratic election," Crisis said in a statement.

"SADC must be the midwife to help deliver democracy in Zimbabwe. Without that, it will be another stillbirth for democracy in Zimbabwe."

ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary dominance for the first time in March 2008 after being defeated by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.

Tsvangirai also beat Mugabe in the parallel presidential race but was denied an outright victory after electoral officials withheld results for five weeks and announced a run-off, which the 86-yeart-old Mugabe won after a violence campaign that shocked and embarrassed even some of his staunchest supporters in Africa.

The victory elicited worldwide condemnation, forcing the veteran leader into a coalition government with Tsvangirai and a break-away MDC group led by Arthur Mutambara.

The MDC says more than 200 supporters died in the run up to the run-off, which Tsvangirai boycotted.

Crisis said SADC, which is the guarantor of the September 2008 political accord between ZANU-PF and MDC, should ensure Zimbabwe fully complies with SADC election principles and guidelines, which call for impartiality of electoral institutions, prevention of state-sponsored violence and non-interference in electoral processes by the state security apparatus.

Critics say Mugabe has used the country's state security to intimidate and keep opponents in check in a bid to retain power.

ZANU-PF and MDC have agreed on some wide ranging electoral reforms, which if implemented could minimise future disputes.

But analysts argue that while electoral violence and interference by state security agents in the electoral process continue to stalk Zimbabwean elections, the biggest threat is a clique around Mugabe that continues to frustrate the smooth transfer of power.

Crisis said as much, urging SADC to "guarantee the democratic transfer of power to the eventual winner of the proposed elections."

"The problem in Zimbabwe is not so much about the election outcome. We have always known who has won the election, but the real crunch is resolving the matrix of the transfer of power. If you can unlock that you have resolved the Zimbabwean crisis," a Western diplomat said this week.

Political commentators say Mugabe is likely to lose again to Tsvangirai in a free and fair election but they question whether ZANU-PF, torn by faction strife, will want a repeat of the March 2008 defeat.

To protect the integrity of Zimbabwe's elections, SADC should deploy monitors in Zimbabwe to closely assess the ongoing constitution-making process and to investigate reports of violence, intimidation and the setting up of militia bases across the country, Crisis said.

"The chaos, violence and intimidation authored predominantly by president Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party around the constitutional outreach program clearly indicate that instruments of repression remain active and that they are likely to be used again in future elections," the pressure group said.