ZIMBABWE: Where are the election observers?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008
There are no election observers officially on the ground with just 17 days left before Zimbabwe's presidential run-off ballot.

After the 29 March poll, which saw the ruling ZANU-PF lose control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980, there have been widespread reports of election violence that has left at least 60 people dead according to the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

President Robert Mugabe, who is seeking to extend his 28-year rule against his rival, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, on 27 June, has characterised the opposition as agents of British and US imperialism attempting to recolonise Zimbabwe.

The 29 March poll saw Tsvangirai win 47.9 percent of the ballot, which fell short of the 50 percent plus one ballot required for a first round win. Mugabe managed 43.2 percent in the first round.

The justice ministry this week began extending invitations to election observers and said accreditation would "be done by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) upon production of a letter of invitation" from the ministry.

Rindai Chipfunde, the director of the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN), an umbrella body for 38 non-governmental organisations promoting free and fair elections, told IRIN: "We have not been invited for accreditation and because of that, we cannot go and monitor preparations for the run-off, despite the fact that time is running out."

No voter education

She said ZESN cannot conduct voter education because "even though it is now some time after we applied to go out to the electorate, ZEC has not yet responded, so we are hamstrung."

ZESN has been hit by a double whammy, after the government recently ordered all NGOs to suspend their activities with immediate effect and reapply for registration, accusing civil society groups of aiding and abetting the MDC.

Last week, local government minister Ignatius Chombo said NGOs were using food aid in selected rural communities, in which ZANU was losing the strong support it used to enjoy, to woo the electorate to vote for the MDC.

"NGOs cannot ... go into local authority areas to compete with the government. These organisations are primarily there to complement government efforts where necessary. At no time should NGOs make sporadic forays into programmes that are not specified in the memorandum of agreement [between them and government]," Chombo said.

However, the director of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), Cephas Zinhumwe, denied NGO involvement in politics, and said the "ban" on NGO activities had "ugly implications".

"The suspension of the field work of NGOs is indefinite and that brings a lot of uncertainty — given the fact that we are not sure when it will be lifted — particularly at this time when the population urgently requires humanitarian assistance," Zinhumwe told IRIN.

In 2007/08 international donor agencies provided food aid to 4.1 million people, more than a third of the population. Zimbabwe is suffering acute shortages of power, fuel and basic commodities, and has an annual inflation rate unofficially estimated at more than one million percent. The 2008 maize harvest is forecast to fall short of the national human food requirement by about one million tones.

Zinhumwe said NGOs that were involved in electoral activities "can’t monitor" the run-off ballot, and that they had been effectively "crippled", by government's ruling.

"The suspension goes beyond humanitarian activities; the electoral process that includes inspection of voters’ rolls, observations across the breath and depth of the country for adherence to set down procedures and rules and voter education, among other things, are now extremely difficult," Zinhumwe said.

Observers to arrive soon

Mugabe has denied European Union and other observer missions from Western countries admission to monitor the elections, and diplomatic missions resident in the country have been harassed by the authorities after investigating claims of election violence.

Mugabe has said the government would invite observers from the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa - a trade-based bloc - the Economic Community of West African States and representatives from Asia, Latin America and NGOs from developing countries. However, there is no indication as yet if all those apparently permitted to monitor the poll would do so.

The government official daily newspaper, The Herald, reported an advance party of SADC observers had arrived, comprised of technical staff headed by Colonel Thanki Mothae, the director of SADC's organ on politics, defence and security. Mothae said that the regional body's observers "would start arriving this weekend while the bulk of them would arrive next week."

Mothae said SADC would increase the number of observers from the 163 in the 29 March elections to "between 300 and 400" because "it was felt that we need more observers".

SADC gave a clean bill of health to the 29 March poll, although the MDC has expressed concern at the pattern of election violence which sees violence fall away in the immediate run-up to the ballot and its aftermath.

Apart from the 60 politically motivated killings, the MDC claims torture camps have been established, thousands of people displaced and homes razed by youth militias, veterans of Zimbabwe's liberation war and soldiers in a campaign of retribution against those who voted for the opposition in the March poll.

The military has intimated that should Tsvangirai win the 27 June ballot, there would be a coup d'etat.

Mugabe met with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon at the at the UN's global food summit in Rome, Italy, and agreed to a suggestion that a high-ranking UN official be sent to the country ahead of the run-off vote.

MDC spokesperson, Nelson Chamisa, said the delay in inviting observers was one of the strategies by the "illegitimate government to cling onto power as much as possible".

"There are so many pits and hurdles in the electoral field and more delays will just worsen the situation. There is no way in which we can have free and fair elections when voters are being killed, our rallies are being banned, we are not getting space on national television and the official papers and our leaders are being arrested, all this out of the sight of the very crucial observers," Chamisa told IRIN.
Source: IRIN NEWS http://irinnews.org