THE Southern African Develop-ment Community (Sadc) has put President Robert Mugabe in a tight spot ahead of next year’s general election by adopting the raft of new electoral standards at its
Regional leaders unanimously voted for the Sadc principles and guidelines governing democratic elections at their summit which ended on Wednesday at Grand Baie, Mauritius.
The Sadc standards – which Mugabe has signed up to – demand 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.
They also encourage member states to “take all necessary mea-sures and precautions to prevent perpetration of fraud, rigging, or any other illegal practices” during elections.
This has left Mugabe, who had proposed piecemeal electoral re-forms before the summit to ward off inevitable pressure for fundamental changes at the summit, in a cleft stick. His government will now have to adhere to Sadc principles and guidelines which threaten its tenure on power.
The exacting new standards put pressure on Mugabe ahead of the March parliamentary election. Local opposition and civic groups met with Sadc leaders, including the new chair of the regional bloc, Mauritian Prime Minister Paul Berenger, to press for free and fair elections.
The Movement for Democratic Change, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition held meetings with political and civic leaders from Mauritius and the region to deal with the current situation, including Mugabe’s widely-criticised proposals for a new electoral commission.
Berenger, whose office deals with electoral issues, subsequently made it clear that the bloc would not be satisfied with cosmetic changes in Zimbabwe.
“Really free and fair elections mean not only an independent electoral commission, but also include freedom of assembly and absence of physical harassment by the police or any other entity, freedom of the press and access to national radio and television, and external and credible observation of the whole electoral process,” Berenger told a Sadc audience that included Mugabe.
“With free and fair elections due in Zimbabwe at the beginning of next year we can already start preparing for the normalisation of relations between Sadc, the European Union and the United States.”
Zimbabwe has held two hotly-disputed elections in 2000 and 2002 whose aftermath has destabilised the region and forced millions of Zimbabweans into the diaspora.
Sadc leaders, especially President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, have for the past four years been struggling to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis but Mugabe has resisted their pressure to either change his leadership style or go.
Diplomatic sources said Sadc leaders would now use the electoral route to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis. Berenger will work with the new Sadc troika of his deputy, President Festus Mogae of Botswana and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania. The team will be reinforced by Mbeki as the new chair of the Sadc organ on politics, defence and security and his troika colleagues Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho and Sam Nujoma of Namibia.
The sources said African Union chair Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria would also be involved. Berenger, Mogae, Mbeki, Obasanjo, and to some extent Mkapa, were said to be ready to put pressure on Mugabe to organise a legitimate election next year.
Mogae, an Oxford-trained economist and one of Africa’s most competent leaders, has said Zimbabwe is suffering from a “drought of good governance”.