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Sadc edgy over poll observers

Dumisani Muleya

SERIOUS trouble is brewing within the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) over Zimbabwe’s refusal to allow a regional team to assess the country’s preparedness

for the general election next month.

Diplomatic sources said Sadc leaders are also becoming increasingly agitated by Zimbabwe’s undue delay in inviting regional election observers.

It is said there is further anxiety overseas, as Harare is understood to be planning to bar observers, especially from the European Union and the United States.

Sadc Parliamentary Forum secretary-general Kasuka Mutukwa said this week his organisation was expecting an invitation soon. He said election observers would need to be in the country “at least two weeks” before the election, “but the election is still six weeks away, and it is still possible to receive the invitation”.

Sources said most Sadc leaders, including South African President Thabo Mbeki, were getting edgy about Zimbabwe’s “uncooperative attitude” on the election issue.

Mbeki said early this week there was an urgent need to deploy observers “to go there and observe, to be able to intervene, to help, to create a situation for fair elections”.

Zimbabwe is said to have refused a Sadc team of lawyers clearance to assess its legal and institutional frameworks before its general election.

Sources said President Robert Mugabe’s government had told the Sadc that the team could come into the country only as part of the regional bloc’s election observer mission.

South African foreign affairs director-general Ayanda Ntsaluba said last week the team of lawyers was still awaiting permission from Harare and his government was “a bit concerned” about the delay.

The lawyers were expected to assess whether Zimbabwe had adequately complied with the Sadc election guidelines.

Government claims it is complying with the rules, but the MDC says official measures are woefully inadequate to ensure a free and fair election.

Mugabe is said to be worried about a possible Sadc backlash and has sent emissaries to the region to explain his position. Special Affairs minister for Land Reform John Nkomo met Botswana President Festus Mogae last week, while Anti-Corruption minister Didymus Mutasa met outgoing Namibian President Sam Nujoma on Monday.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa yesterday refused to explain the Sadc issue, referring questions to Foreign Affairs minister Stan Mudenge.

“I have an opinion on the issue but I won’t express it until Mudenge gives the government position on the issue,” he said.

Chinamasa, who administers electoral laws, said he did not understand what the hype was all about when no similar noises were made during recent elections in Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique.

“No one went to Mozambique or Botswana during elections to see if there was compliance. The fact is Zimbabwe is the first country to comply with the Sadc principles,” Chinamasa said.

“What is important to us is that we run the election to the satisfaction of Zimbabweans and contesting parties.”

South African Foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma this week appeared worried about Zimbabwe’s delay in inviting Sadc.

“According to the spirit of the region, we need to be there to observe those elections. As Sadc, we have an agreement that we can observe each other … we will be very concerned if we are not invited,” Dlamini-Zuma added.

Dlamini-Zuma said she had asked the Sadc secretariat in Botswana, in her capacity as chair of the Sadc organ on defence, security and politics, to put together a team of election monitors to come to Zimbabwe.

Sadc deputy executive secretary Albert Muchanga said on Tuesday that Zimbabwe had invited lawyers to assess its compliance with the regional body’s election guidelines. However, he did not explain why the team had allegedly been refused entry.

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