August 26, 2004

Opposition to boycott polls / Harare to crush deviant NGO

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change has "suspended" participation in all future elections at national and local government level. Its national executive said that taking part in elections was "a waste of time and resources" until President Robert Mugabe's government implemented "real" electoral reforms. The MDC, which said that Mugabe's government stole his 2002 re-election and his ruling Zanu PF party's 2000 parliamentary victory, had been expected to contest a general election set for March. "The MDC will not participate in elections until the political space has been opened up and a legal, institutional and administrative framework for elections has been established that harnesses acceptable levels of transparency and fairness," Paul Themba Nyathi, the party's spokesman, told. The MDC's boycott followed Mr Mugabe's announcement last month of electoral reforms including one-day voting and counting of ballots at separate centres rather than one central location.
In the meantime, government has defended a proposed ban on foreign human rights groups and restrictions on foreign-funded charities, accusing donors of employing "local puppets to champion foreign values". The government has detailed proposed laws under which foreign groups concerned principally with "issues of governance" would be in effect banned and charities forbidden from receiving funds from foreign donors. "Foreign-funded organisations and foreign organisations have (proved) to be a threat to national security when it comes to governance issues," said the labour and social welfare ministry. By banning foreign funding for human rights work, the proposed laws would protect national security and ensure "governance issues have to be (seen) in the local context", the statement said. It said some nongovernmental organisations were "deviant and others dabble in politics". "This legislation should not come as a surprise to patent adversaries of government. It was long overdue," the statement further noted.
Churches and aid groups have warned that the ban on foreign funding would deprive millions of impoverished Zimbabweans of aid as the nation suffers its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980. The Non-Governmental Organisations Bill requires all nongovernmental organisations to register with a state dominated regulatory council and disclose details of their programmes and funding. It is expected to be approved by the ruling party-dominated parliament after it reconvenes on October 5. Groups not granted licences will be shut down. (Daily Telegraph, UK / Business Day, Johannesburg)

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