- The election observer team of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) today gave a generally positive assessment of yesterday's general elections in Zimbabwe, saying they were "peaceful, credible and dignified." The opposition however protests, and is supported by the British government, saying the polls were "seriously flawed."
South Africa's Minister of Minerals and Energy, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who leads the SADC election observer mission, today issued a statement generally positive on yesterday's polls in Zimbabwe. Ms Ngcuka in the statement extended SADC's "congratulations to the people of Zimbabwe following the holding of a peaceful, credible and dignified election."
SADC's 55 election observers had been deployed throughout the length and breadth of Zimbabwe in both rural and urban areas during the last two weeks. With regard to the polling process, it was SADC's overall view that "the elections were conducted in an open, transparent and professional manner," Minister Ngcuka said this afternoon.
The polling stations had opened and closed at the appointed times and SADC observers were "impressed by the orderliness and patience of voters, who we believe, were able to express their franchise peacefully, freely and unhindered." The picture that emerged at the close of poll was "an election day, which was peaceful." As counting continues in various polling stations, SADC was "convinced" that the process would be transparent.
The Southern African observers only had registered some minor irregularities. The SADC mission was "concerned with the number of people who were turned away from polling stations." Further, although there had been efforts to ensure equitable access to the public media, "there is still considerable room to improve in this area to allow the access to the state media by the opposition," Ms Ngcuka noted.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Chance (MDC) has reacted furiously to the conclusions by the SADC mission. MDC Secretary-General Welshman Ncube said the party "no longer has any faith whatsoever in the capacity of Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka." The South African Minister during the last few days had made "unqualified comments on Zimbabwe’s electoral process," raising the suspicion that SADC only wanted to "rubber-stamp" the outcome.
Indeed, the SADC observer mission was one of only very few foreign election observer groups that was allowed to enter the country, along with missions from South Africa, South Africa's ruling ANC party and the African Union. During earlier elections, missions from these institutions had praised the polls as free and fair while more independent observer groups revealed widespread rigging and irregularities.
The MDC during March has pointed to many irregularities, violence and discrimination. MDC supporters and candidates have been attacked, voters have been intimidated and tricked into not voting, the voters' roll is said to be manipulated, the opposition has been hindered from organising rallies and the media have only reported on the ruling party's campaign.
Support for the MDC's allegations today came from the British government. The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office noted that it was "clear" that the elections were "seriously flawed, and that [President Robert] Mugabe has yet again denied ordinary Zimbabweans a free and fair opportunity to vote." While the UK was barred from sending an observer mission, London nevertheless had access to statements from "credible observers".
These "credible observers", as opposed to the SADC mission, had noted "harassment and intimidation by the ruling party and the government." Further, London holds, "the voters' roll was severely compromised and thousands were turned away. The electoral commission was neither independent nor effective."
The British government in particular noted that in the preceding weeks and months, the government did not provide a conducive environment for free and fair elections. Repressive legislation was in force to prevent freedom of speech and of association. "In sum, Zimbabwe's 2005 parliamentary elections were fundamentally flawed and further weaken Mugabe's legitimacy," the British statement says.
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