5 March 2002

Voters are still waiting for 5,000 local monitors

With only four days to go to Zimbabwe’s presidential election, nothing has been seen of up to 5,000 local monitors who are supposed to be overseeing it. A month ago Patrick Chinamasa, the Justice Minister, said that the monitors, who had been drawn from civic organisations such as churches and professional associations, were being accredited, but they have yet to appear in the troubled townships and rural areas, where violence is reported daily. The monitors are supposed to have been drawn from 70 organisations, some closely allied with President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party. Indeed, churches say that individual names that they have put forward have been subject to intense scrutiny by Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation, causing delays. Yet so far the Electoral Supervisory Commission, headed by a recently retired Zimbabwean Army Brigadier, Douglas Nyikaramba, has been silent about the accreditation of any local observers, while announcing every incoming batch of foreigners.

Brigadier Nyikaramba’s nomination caused questions to be asked in Parliament by MPs from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, who questioned his objectivity. The MDC claims that soldiers and officials linked to the ruling party are being recruited to run the election in place of teachers, who have played a large part in the past, but this has not been confirmed.

Officials were unable yesterday to give a clear picture of the number of foreign observers who are now in Zimbabwe under a plethora of official umbrellas. South Africa, for example, has personnel present under its 50-member official "observer mission", as part of a 20-strong parliamentary group, with an "election support network" and with various regional bodies. Since the expulsion of Pierre Schori, the European Union mission chief from Sweden, and the withdrawal of the rest of his team, a 25-strong group from Norway has been the only European delegation in the country. The EU was told that its observers might remain under the aegis of a delegation of the African, Caribbean and Pacific states, but only four observers representing the ACP are known to have arrived, two from Namibia and two from Sudan.

There is a group from the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has sent 39 MPs and 17 support staff to observe in the name of its "Parliamentary Forum", and an unconfirmed number of observers for the SADC Electoral Support Network and the SADC Electoral Commission.

Zimbabwean police cut short a meeting yesterday between foreign diplomats and the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who was briefing them on his plans if he wins the election against President Robert Mugabe this weekend. About 30 foreign envoys went to a Harare hotel to hear Mr Tsvangirai describe his plans for a transition to a government by his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), if he wins the March 9 and 10 presidential election. But soon after the briefing began, Mr Tsvangirai was called out by police and he returned to inform the diplomats that the meeting had been declared an illegal gathering under Mr Mugabe's new Public Order and Security Act. The diplomats dispersed, but many were outraged. "We have the right and the duty under the Vienna convention to talk to political forces when we think it's appropriate," said the Spanish ambassador, Javier Sandomingo. Other diplomats said the police action was a blatant display of the Mugabe government's efforts to suppress Mr Tsvangirai at every turn.

Opinion polls show that Mr Tsvangirai has support from nearly 70% of voters and has a real chance of unseating Mr Mugabe, who has held power for 22 years. (ZWNEWS; The Times, Guardian)

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