- Zimbabwean government has been accused of undermining any meaningful prospect of free and fair elections on 29 March, Human Rights Watch said, blaming the Mugabe regime of committing "serious electoral flaws and human rights abuses."
The rights body believed that the election process itself is "skewed", despite some the
involvement of several political parties and some improvements on paper. As such, Zimbabweans would not vote for candidates of their choice.
Dispatching a 59-page report, “All Over Again: Human Rights Abuses and Flawed Electoral
Conditions in Zimbabwe’s Coming General Elections,” the New York-based organisation documents how the government and the ruling party ZANU-PF, in the run up to the 2008 elections, "have engaged in widespread intimidation of the opposition; have restricted freedom of association and assembly; and have manipulated food and farming equipment distribution to gain political advantage."
The more than seven weeks nationwide research also unearthed "biased media coverage in addition to numerous incidents of police and state-security violence against human rights activists and perceived opposition supporters throughout Zimbabwe."
International monitors, especially those from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have been called to monitor and to judge the political context in which the polls are being held, not just the electoral process itself.
"SADC observers should publicly, promptly, and clearly condemn failures to uphold regional and international standards," Human Rights Watch said.
Zimbabwe has had a history of electoral violence and malpractices, mostly by the ruling Zanu-PF and the state security forces. Already, some opposition supporters have become victims of political abuse, although the country's amended electoral act outlaws intimidation and violence.
“The onus for reporting on violations in the 2008 elections rests with the observer mission and other African countries,” said Gagnon of Human Rights Watch. “In the days remaining until the elections, they should urge the Zimbabwean government to allow electoral observers to visit all election sites and openly report on any election-related violence and intimidation.”
“It is appalling that the police who are supposed to prevent abuses are committing them,” said Gagnon, believing that "government’s failure to prosecute even one police officer or state security official responsible for such violence and intimidation has deepened the climate of fear in the country.”
The report also detailed the denial of the opposition to use state-owned media, ban opposition meetings in some provinces and that government use state-subsidized food and farming equip as an electioneering tool.
“The ‘mealie’ meal is only being accessed by us. It is very easy. Only those who are on the councillors lists can access the grain. A person who is not on the list cannot,” a Zanu-PF supporter in Manicaland province told Human Rights Watch.
In spite of changes to the electoral laws, serious electoral flaws still remains in the country's voter registration and electoral commission.
“If southern African leaders are serious about ending Zimbabwe’s political crisis, they need to tell the Zimbabwean government there will be consequences if it again flouts its commitment to hold free and fair elections,” said Gagnon. “Another round of flawed elections in Zimbabwe should not lead to ‘business as usual.’”
Zimbabwean electoral commission has disclosed that between December 2007 and 14 February, more than 300,000 voters have registered for the polls.
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