Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Zimbabwe bans the West from monitoring election

Zimbabwe has released a list of international organisations and countries accredited to observe elections later this month – and the US, most of the EU and Australia have all been excluded. Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi announced last week the EU and US would not be invited. Instead, Robert Mugabe’s government has invited 47 teams of monitors from regional groupings such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the AU as well as from countries including China, Russia and Iran with whom Mugabe has relatively good relations. Zimbabwe goes to the polls on 29 March for presidential and parliamentary elections.

The international institutions invited to monitor the elections include the Non-Aligned Movement, the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group of states, the Caribbean Community, the Association of South East Asian Nations, the Arab Maghreb Union, the Community of Portuguese Speaking (Lusophone) countries and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development. Congress of South African Trade Unions spokesman Patrick Craven said he welcomed the news that at least some international bodies would be invited but wanted more action. "We remain sceptical about the conditions that have not been properly and sufficiently rendered conducive for all parties to campaign freely,” he said.

The first team of election observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has already arrived in the country. The government-run Herald newspaper said 50 observers are already in the capital Harare with their numbers expected to grow substantially by polling day. Tanki Mothae, the director of SADC's defence and security department acknowledged they were there at the invitation of the Zimbabwean government, however he added: “more importantly we are here because Zimbabwe is a member state so we need to take ownership of these elections.”

The EU raised concerns yesterday about the fairness of the elections, noting that European observers had not been invited to monitor the vote. In a statement released by foreign ministers in Brussels, they said the European Council was “very concerned” about the humanitarian, political and economic situation in Zimbabwe and conditions on the ground. They urged President Robert Mugabe to respect international standards and warned that failure to do so would “endanger the holding of free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections.” Europe imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Mugabe and his hundred top officials after his land distribution and disputed re-election in 2002.

Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa Simon Moyo said the West was waging a "virulent and vicious" smear campaign over its lack of observer status aided by the South African media. He said the country’s detractors were "trumpeting British falsehoods" about the election process. "It is therefore disheartening but not surprising that certain sections of the media, unfortunately including the SA Broadcasting Corporation, have chosen to ignore the facts obtaining on the ground,” he said. "Much of the recent criticism is certainly not out of ignorance of the facts, but out of sheer malice.”

Nevertheless the fact remains that Zimbabwe's economy continues to shrink amid rocketing inflation, shortages of basic food supplies and collapsing public services. The World Health Organization says Zimbabwe has the world’s shortest life expectancy (37 years for men and 34 for women). It also has the greatest percentage of orphans (about 25 per cent according to UNICEF) and the worst annual inflation rate (1,281 per cent as of February 2008). Foreign aid and investment have dried up in seven years of political and economic turmoil. Robert Mugabe blames the EU and US sanctions for his country’s predicament. But he has not allowed any meaningful opposition against him. His forces regularly jails, harasses and violent beats up political opponents. He won the 2002 election only after arresting his opponent for treason.

Mugabe has now ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years. The Economist calls him “a near-parody of an African dictator” who sports “a Hitleresque moustache” and who “waves his fists at campaign rallies, runs into crowds punching the air and spits personal abuse at his opponents”. Yet they also say his opponents have consistently underestimated him. Now 84 years old, he still works long hours, and is sharper minded than most of his many opponents. With a strong party machine backing him and the tacit support of Africa, he can afford to thumb his nose at the US and Europe. It is now increasingly likely Mugabe will die in power.

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