MDC welcomes poll guidelines

Gift Phiri

ZIMBABWE’S main opposition has welcomed the election guidelines adopted at the annual Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) summit in Mauritius this week but decried their lack of an enforc

ement mechanism.


Heads of state from Sadc gave full backing to a far-reaching set of guidelines for democratic elections at a summit on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.


“The devil is always in the implementation and we have no doubt that (President Robert) Mugabe hasn’t got the slightest intention of enforcing the new protocol,” said Movement for Democratic Change secretary-general Welshman Ncube.


The chairman of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, President Thabo Mbeki, told a media briefing in Mauritius that the onus was on him to deal with member states that were in persistent violation of the charter.


“It (the Sadc treaty) allows for people to be excluded from the organisation if they are found to be constantly in violation,” he said.


Speaking to journalists at Harare International Airport on his return from the summit, Mugabe said he welcomed the new election guidelines.


“This is what we have meant all the time, that we must create our systems and not depend on the Europeans and Americans,” Mugabe said. “I am glad now we have come up with our own system.”


The principles and guidelines governing democratic elections adopted at the Sadc summit include 10 basic tenets. These are full participation of citizens in the political process, freedom of association, political tolerance, regular intervals for elections, equal access for all political parties to state media, equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for, independence of the judiciary, impartiality of the electoral institutions, the right to voter education, the respect of election results proclaimed to be free and fair by a competent national electoral authority, and the right to challenge election results as provided for in the law.


Zimbabwe Journalists for Human Rights welcomed the Sadc electoral standards, saying “they were a milestone in particular insofar as they dealt with press freedom and the need to open the public media for use by all citizens in a country – and not ruling party or government officials alone”.

Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) chairperson Reginald Matchaba-Hove said the guidelines, if implemented, would improve election conditions although the role of international observers was not spelt out.


“As Zesn, we are delighted that the summit unanimously agreed on the Sadc election guidelines. However, our concern so far is that the text refers principally to Sadc election observation missions and is somewhat silent on the need for other international observer missions,” Matchaba-Hove said.

“As civil society we will be following up the question of implementation of the principles and guidelines into domestic legislation and practice.”

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a grouping of civic organisations, said the setting of electoral standards showed that the regional bloc was moving towards “democratic governance”.


“We would like to congratulate the Sadc heads of state and government for unanimously adopting principles on free and fair elections with emphasis on member states to respect their citizens’ civil liberties such as freedom of assembly, association and expression,” the group said.


“The Sadc summit held in Grand Baie, Mauritius, could result in the introduction of a democratic dispensation in the region if all the member states implement the proposals in the administration of their elections.”