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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Is Zimbabwe living up to SADC's electoral code?

JOHANNESBURG, 18 June 2008 (IRIN) - The degree of freedom and fairness in Zimbabwe's presidential election on 27 Junewillbe judged according to a 10-point guideline enshrined in the Principles forConductingDemocratic Elections of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

IRIN, using the SADC checklist of democratic principles, has asked analysts to ascertain how Zimbabwe is measuring up to its obligations as a member of the 14-member regionalorganisation.

The treaty establishing SADC, signed in 1992 in Windhoek, capital of Namibia, states: "The Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation provides that SADC shall 'Promote the development of democratic institutions and practices withinthe territoriesof State Parties and encourage the observance of universal human rights as provided for in the Charter and Conventions of the Organization of African Unity (African Union) and the United Nations.'"

According to the treaty, "SADC member states shall adhere to the following principles in the conduct of democratic elections:"

1. Full participation of the citizens in the political process

"There is no doubt that there is little, if any, participation of citizens in the election process because of the political violence in that country [Zimbabwe],"Khabele Matlosa,research director of the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa,a non-governmental organisation (NGO) promoting credible elections and democratic practices in Africa,told IRIN.

"We know for a fact that most of the violence unleashed is by government militias and thousands of people have been displaced, and plus or minus 60 people killed.There is a climate of fear and people are afraid of any type of participation because of the violence. Citizens' participation is at its lowest ebb ever."

Joseph Kurebwa, head of the University of Zimbabwe's politics and administrationdepartment,told IRIN: "The nature of politics in Zimbabwe is that anyone is freeto be a memberof any political party of their choice, and also to not participatein politics ifthey so wish.

"The 'political violence' since 29 March is a result of differences between people, and these people are using the opportunity to settle old scores. There are very few incidents which would pass as political violence," he maintained.

Kurebwa offered to stand as a candidate for ZANU-PF in the recent parliamentary elections, but was not selected by the party at its primaries.

2. Freedom of association

"Freedom of association is allowed by the constitution, and political parties are formed and allowed to contest elections," said Matlosa, who observed the 29 Marchelection.

"In practice they [opposition parties and civil society organisations] are restrictedheavilyby state actions; the government gives with one hand and takes away withthe other.It is not just political parties, but also NGOs. The Zimbabwe Electoral Support Networkand the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights play a very importantrole, but are not allowed political space," he commented.

Kurebwa said, "There is freedom of association; people of different political affiliations have been acting together with each other at various levels."

3. Political tolerance

"There is no political tolerance; the society is so polarised. The ruling party [ZANU-PF] does not tolerate political opposition; they [the government] see the opposition as part of a conspiracy unleashed by the West," Matlosa said.

"The level of political tolerance is very low ... [Zimbabwe's] security chiefs made it very clear publicly [before the 29 March election] that they would not accept any result that did not favour the incumbent [President Robert Mugabe]. This is the highest level of political intolerance," Matlosa commented.

In contrast Kurebwa maintained that "The ruling party accepts that people should have as many different viewpoints as possible. The government has not restricted this in any way."

4. Regular intervals for elections as provided for by the respective National Constitutions

"Elections are held regularly, although in a sense the 29 March election was a snapelection.The ruling party called elections without consulting the opposition partiesor President Thabo Mbeki [appointed by SADC to mediate between the main opposition Movement forDemocratic Change party and ZANU-PF]", Matlosa said.

"We excel on that score," Kurebwa noted.

5. Equal opportunity for all political parties to access state media

"No, there is no equal opportunity for all political parties to access the statemedia," Matlosa said. "The state media are monopolised by ZANU-PF and oppositionpartieshave to rely on private media. In the 29 March elections, once SADC deployed observers in Zimbabwe, it was only then that the opposition was given opportunitieson statemedia's radio and television services."

Kurebwa said, "The Broadcast Services Act and other pieces of legislation have given the opposition parties ample opportunity to air their views through media owned by the state."

6. Equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for

"Zimbabwe's election laws provide for that, but in practice it is a different story.The present environment is so poisoned in the country that even for the leader of the opposition [Morgan Tsvangirai] - who has been arrested four or five times -it is extremely difficult for him to even campaign," Matlosa pointed out.

"Legally, the voting age is 18 years old and people over 18 can also stand for parliament," Kurebwasaid.

"When people commit offences, or the police believe there are grounds to suspect that someone is about to commit an offence, they can be arrested. This does not interfere with the voter or someone standing as a candidate," Kurebwa responded.

7. Independence of judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions

"Not at all. The judiciary is hugely politicised and is under the constant influence of ZANU-PF, and the same applies to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission," Matlosasaid.

"The final appointment of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission officers is by the president,and it is not independent or autonomous. Other government departments are running aspects of the elections and registration of voters - the accreditation of observersis done by the Ministry of Justice for example," he noted.

Kurebwa told IRIN: "In the recent history of the country, treason charges have been levelled against Tsvangirai for a plot to assassinate Mugabe. The judiciary exoneratedhim[Tsvangirai].

"By and large the judiciary is independent, as is ZEC. The ZEC has remained stead fast in executing its duties according to the law. It has not subjected itself to the will of political parties," Kurebwa said.

8. Voter education

"Voters are supposed to be informed and normally this is carried out by political parties and civil society, but in Zimbabwe this is the reserve of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.Other organisations are barred from doing it, because government accuses them of being opposition supporters," Matlosa told IRIN.

"Voter education is the responsibility of ZEC by law," Kurebwa said. "I can categorically say that the commission has excelled in informing people of political rights and the candidates participating in the elections."

9. Acceptance and respect of election results by political parties proclaimed to have been free and fair by the competent National Electoral Authorities in accordance with the law of the land

"Problems with election processes [such as complaints made by the opposition afterthe2002 elections] are not resolved, and these problems are being compounded -and the run-off elections will see more complaints that are not resolved," Matlosa said.

Kurebwa noted that "In 2000 and 2002 the opposition MDC went to the courts, butbyand large various political parties have been happy with the outcome of the elections."

10. Challenge of the election results as provided for by the law of the land

This also relates to the previous provision," Matlosa said. "The electoral law provides for a timeframe [for complaints to be resolved], which is hardly ever observed."

"If one looks at the harmonised elections," Kurebwa commented, "the results of each polling station were posted outside of the polling station, and that gave everyone an opportunityto look at the results. The results were above board and in compliance with the law."

go/he/oa

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance

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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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