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ZIMBABWE: SADC election observers - ready or not for 'D-Day' poll

HARARE, 12 June 2008 (IRIN) - Election observers from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) began deploying in Zimbabwe this week ahead of the 27 June presidential election runoff, and in the middle of a ruling party campaign marked by violence and intimidation.

Tanki Mothae, team leader and director of the regional organisation's Organ on Politics, Defence and Security told a news conference on Thursday that this month’s ballot was a “D-Day election”.

He did not comment on the arrest earlier in the day of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) secretary-general Tendai Biti, or the apparent police harassment of party leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

“Our main purpose here is to help the people of Zimbabwe go through this election peacefully and smoothly,” said Mothae.

“We are not here to take sides or to create confusion but to help the people of Zimbabwe. If we see anything that is not in line with the SADC guidelines and principles on free and fair elections we should advise so that the mistake can be corrected.”

Biti was arrested as he flew into the capital, Harare, after a month-long self-imposed exile. “He is facing two charges, one for treason and another for illegally announcing the election results when that is the mandate of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission,” police spokesman, assistant commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, told IRIN.

Tsvangirai was detained by the police in the Midlands city of Kwekwe, and after his release was again held in the town of Gweru, 60km south.

“Tsvangirai has in the past claimed that his life was under threat and police diverted his convoy to the police station where the vehicles were searched. We are simply protecting him from his enemies,” said Bvudzijena.

Luke Tamborinyoka, MDC director of information, told IRIN the police action was designed to frustrate the party ahead of the runoff vote.

“More than 60 MDC supporters have been murdered by groups aligned to ZANU-PF, 3,000 have been hospitalised, hundreds unaccounted for, while thousands have been displaced. While [President] Robert Mugabe is campaigning freely, the MDC president is being frustrated. Even the last election which we won was not free and fair, but people are ready to vote for change by voting for Morgan Tsvangirai.”

In the first round poll on 29 March, the ruling ZANU-PF party lost control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980. In the presidential election Tsvangirai took 47.9 percent of the vote, falling short of the 50 percent plus one required to declare victory. Mugabe, who has ruled for 28 years, managed 43.2 percent.

SADC's woes

SADC, the 14-member regional organisation, initially planned to deploy 300 observers, but now expects to field more than 400 by 27 June – over three-times the number on the ground for the first round ballot, said Mothae.

With the country grappling with extreme shortages as a result of an eight-year recession, Mothae admitted they were facing “a few logistical shortfalls, but we’re addressing them. Right now we are working on the accommodation issues”.

The country’s dilapidated communication system was another headache. Zimbabwe’s state-controlled mobile phone company, Net One, has battled to provide sim cards and recharge cards for use by the observers while in the country.

“We are working on solving the issue of communication problems. That is our biggest challenge,” said Mothae.

A UN envoy

Meanwhile, UN envoy Haile Menkerios is expected in Zimbabwe from 20 June to try and ease the political tensions ahead of the poll runoff, the UN news wire reported.

The mission by Menkerios, the UN’s assistant secretary-general for political affairs, follows a meeting last week between Mugabe and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the fringes of the global food summit in Rome.

The UN has been increasingly vocal over the political conditions in Zimbabwe. Last month, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, condemned the killings of opposition activists as well as the harassment of nongovernmental organisations and human rights defenders.

“It is hard to get a very precise picture of the full range of the violence or the exact number of politically motivated extra-judicial killings,” she said.

“At one level, there appears to be an increasing pattern of people being targeted for politically motivated assassination. At another, arrests, harassment, intimidation and violence – directed not just at people with political affiliations, but also at members of civil society – are continuing on a daily basis.”

SADC will have the largest poll monitoring team on the ground. The highly-experienced Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN), an umbrella body of 38 NGOs promoting free and fair elections, has not been accredited and has been hit by a government freeze on civil society operations.

The authorities accuse NGOs of working with Western powers to overthrow the government.

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ZIMBABWE: Where are the election observers?

Theme(s): (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights

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Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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