afrol News, 13 March - Local and international election observers agree with the Zimbabwean opposition; the 9-11 March presidential elections were neither free nor fair. All observing sources except the South Africans, agree there was lack of transparency, political violence and intimidation and the authorities had manipulated capacity and opening hours in Harare, hindering thousands of opposition supporters from voting.
- There is no way these elections could be described as substantially free and fair," Reginald Matchaba-Hove, chairman of the independent Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), today stated. ZESN is an umbrella body consisting of 38 church and civic groups and has been monitoring this weekend's Zimbabwean presidential elections. "Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans were deliberately and systematically disenfranchised of their fundamental right to participate in the governance of their country," Matchaba-Hove said.
- Zimbabwe's election cannot be called free and fair, the ZESN observer group already had stated this morning, before the official results were announced. Deputy spokesman Tawanda Hondora told the UN media IRIN: "It certainly was not free and fair because the environment was not conducive to a free and fair election."
Hondora said he would be "shocked out of my wits if Mugabe loses this election" as Mugabe had "played all his cards and worked exceedingly hard to ensure he wins the election by any means necessary." Hondora was spared of this shock as the results of the un-monitored election count were published earlier today: Mugabe allegedly had won a comfortable victory.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) observer mission also concluded the elections "are not transparent". The observer mission's chief, Duke Lefhoko, was especially shocked about the fact that the Zimbabwe Independent Electoral Commission (ZIEC) refused to release figures on the total number of people who voted.
The first international report to be published came from the 25-person Norwegian observer team today. Its leader, Kåre Vollan, returned to Oslo, issued a preliminary statement, forcefully criticising the poll. "The Observer Mission concludes that the Presidential Elections failed to meet key, broadly accepted, criteria for elections," Vollan wrote.
- On election days, the capacity of polling stations in Harare was wholly inadequate, Vollan states. "Despite advance warnings, the Registrar General decided to carry out elections with as many as 5,300 voters per polling station on average in Harare and Chitungwiza. In all other provinces, excepting Bulawayo, the number was around 1,000 per polling station."
- The irregular closure of the polling stations on the second and third days together with the late opening the third day removed the last chance to offer all voters a fair chance to cast their vote within reasonable time, said Vollan. The Mission's leader, who has been an election observer at various occasion, told the press in Oslo he had "never seen anything like this," expressing his shock.
A 5-person observer team of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, led by the African federation's General Secretary Andrew Kailembo, which was dispatched to Zimbabwe on 5 March, criticised "the fact that there were still a large number of voters who had not cast their votes" when the polls were closed.
Also the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) has complained about the elections, "marred by violence and intimidation." On 16 February, Ephraim Tapa (of the ZCTU General Council) and his wife were abducted by Mugabe's war veterans, and "Mugabe himself has waged a campaign of harassment against trade unionists in Zimbabwe," a trade union spokesman said, including his crude attempts to de-register the ZCTU. The spokesman said; "At the moment we are okay, but everybody here is afraid of what will happen now."
The human rights group Amnesty International today also released a statement, expressing its concern over "a pattern of mass arbitrary detention of hundreds of polling agents belonging to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)." The group added it was "deeply concerned for the safety of those arrested in the light of the well-established pattern of 'disappearances', cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by Zimbabwean security forces."
The Zimbabwean government, by Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo, however denies all charges of unfair elections. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa further described the result as a "runaway victory" for Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF.
Only the South African and Namibian observers' missions have so far supported the official Zimbabwean view of an orderly election. The head of Namibia's observer mission, Kaire Mbuende, told 'The Namibian' the organisation of the election had been "watertight", outruling fraud. He however claimed there were incidents of "some white South Africans" and British citizens who were not entitled to vote who wanted to vote.
Another Mugabe-ally, South Africa, presented its observers mission's interim statement this afternoon. The mission's leader, Sam Motsuenyane, concluded the election "should be considered legitimate." Tim Boya of the Mission added the elections in Zimbabwe had passed "in the same way, if not even better" than in other African countries.
We are hopeful that now that the people of Zimbabwe have spoken, the world will respect their verdict, the South African Mission's report concludes.
Several Western countries however already have reacted negatively to the elections. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw concluded the poll had been "stolen" by Mugabe. The US government has protested on noting election was "seriously flawed". The New Zealand government today announced it was ready to impose unilateral sanctions against Zimbabwe if the Commonwealth failed to suspend the country.