PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe will be under intense pressure at the crucial Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit which opens in Mauritius on Monday over the deepening row on electoral
Mugabe, whose government is one of the few in the region still using an archaic electoral system, will be battling to ward off pressure by local and regional groups to adopt fundamental reforms and stop political repression.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) last week sent an advance party to Port Louis to brief diplomats and officials of the host government on the situation in Zimbabwe. Sadc diplomats and ministers have been meeting this week in preparation for the summit on Monday.
Foreign ministers will meet this weekend to discuss electoral issues, among other things.
Civic groups have also dispatched delegations to Mauritius to lobby on electoral reforms and other matters such as the proposed NGO law that analysts say is designed to suppress democratic awareness.
The MDC delegation to Mauritius is led by deputy secretary-general, Gift Chimanikire, and includes party spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi. It met with Mauritian Prime Minister Paul Berenger, Foreign minister Jayakrishna Cuttaree and civic leaders. The prime minister’s portfolio deals with electoral issues.
Chimanikire said during their visit to Mauritius the MDC wanted Sadc leaders to step up pressure on Mugabe to accept regional norms and standards on elections in their entirety.
“We had two main objectives. Firstly, to appraise political leaders, senior government officials and civil society organisations on the situation in Zimbabwe from the MDC’s perspective,” he said.
“Secondly, to engage on the issue of the regional consultations that are currently taking place in relation to developing electoral norms and standards for Sadc.”
Chimanikire said regional leaders needed to increase diplomatic pressure on Zimbabwe “to restore people’s basic rights and freedoms and to restore the rule of law”.
He said while the MDC welcomed the proposed electoral reforms, the concessions were simply not profound enough to deal with the current crisis. He said reforms should cover the broad political spectrum. Mugabe said last month he would introduce reforms, entailing an independent electoral commission.
Chimanikire said Sadc leaders could intensify pressure on Mugabe to change his ways. He said it was “too simplistic and indeed deeply misleading to assume Mugabe has the support of all African leaders”. Certain leaders, he said, had expressed “disquiet and deep concern at the violent excesses and criminal failings of his regime”. The MDC official said the recent damning African Union report on the human rights situation in Zimbabwe showed that African opinion was shifting against Mugabe.
Regional leaders are expected to adopt the proposed Sadc principles and guidelines governing democratic elections which call for free and fair elections, upholding of civil and political liberties, press freedom and access by all parties to state media, and the independence of the judiciary, as well as the impartiality of electoral institutions.
This would put Zimbabwe under more pressure to reform. Local parties and civic groups would also capitalise on this to wring more concessions out of Mugabe’s anti-reformist regime. Civic groups, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (Zesn), have been meeting with Zanu PF to push for more reforms.
Zesn last week hosted a regional meeting on electoral reforms at Victoria Falls where MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube rejected efforts by Zanu PF to dragoon his party into rubber-stamping shallow reforms. It has resolved electoral reform needs to be adopted by consensus.
The MDC has also threatened to block the electoral reforms in parliament unless Zanu PF stopped its attempt to get away with cosmetic changes.
The MDC is particularly opposed to the proposal in the draft electoral reform Bill to have the chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission appointed by Mugabe in consultation with the widely-critcised Judicial Services Commission. The Bill is expected in parliament next month.