IN a last-ditch effort to press President Robert Mugabe to conform to regional electoral standards and persuade the opposition MDC to contest next year’s election, the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) is soon expected to
hold a meeting in Harare to review the country’s electoral laws.
The aim of the meeting will be to ensure that the laws adhere to standards set by Sadc in Mauritius in August. The meeting will come just three months ahead of Zimbabwe’s poll due in March.
The Zimbabwe government has been working feverishly to convince regional leaders that it is now compliant with the regional benchmarks in the holding of elections. The Zimbabwe parliament has passed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Bill and the Electoral Bill in its bid to be seen as compliant. But the attack on civil society through the NGOs Bill, the closing of the airwaves to the opposition, and the use of security legislation to bar opposition parties from campaigning have placed another black mark on Mugabe’s record.
The MDC is to decide in the coming weeks whether or not to boycott the poll.
South Africa’s Business Day, quoting diplomatic sources, yesterday said Mugabe gave the go-ahead for the Sadc talks on his country’s electoral law reforms at last weekend’s meeting in Pretoria with President Thabo Mbeki.
The paper said the planned talks with Zimbabwean authorities were discussed on Wednesday in Pretoria at a meeting of Sadc’s “troika”, comprising the past, present, and future chairmen of the group’s organ on politics, defence and security.
Also discussed at the meeting, which was chaired by South Africa’s Foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and attended by Defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota, Lesotho Foreign minister Monyane Moleleki and Namibian Foreign minister Marco Hausiku, were preparations to send Sadc election observers to Zimbabwe.
Sadc’s Grande Baie protocol on principles and guidelines governing democratic elections was adopted at the regional summit in Mauritius, and the group faces the challenge of ensuring Zimbabwe adheres to them.
Mugabe has declared that his government, rather than the electoral commission, will decide who monitors the poll. This is contrary to the practice elsewhere in the region.
MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi yesterday said the opposition would use the opportunity to implore Sadc leaders to put pressure on Mugabe to adhere to the protocol.
“We don’t have much information on that summit,” said Nyathi. “But what I must say is that Sadc cannot persuade the MDC to participate in the elections because we have always preferred the electoral route to get into power.
“What Sadc needs to do is persuade the Mugabe regime to adhere to the principles of the Sadc protocol and create an environment conducive for free and fair elections,” he said. — Business Day/Staff Writer