HomePoliticsZanu PF rushing Bills for March election

Zanu PF rushing Bills for March election

Gift Phiri

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is pulling out all the stops to ensure the ruling Zanu PF wins the crucial parliamentary election due in March next year.

l, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Analysts say Mugabe’s measures were part of a wider plan to further undermine civil and political liberties, and the freedoms of association, assembly and expression in a bid to entrench the current regime’s totalitarian grip on every facet of life.

These draft laws would come in handy for Zanu PF, which is evidently afraid of a free population and democratic elections. The ruling party is likely to use the laws to strengthen its growing agenda of repression, human rights abuses and electoral manipulation.

An electoral reform Bill was pushed through parliament last week but the draft legislation impedes rather than create genuinely independent and impartial electoral authority. Government is struggling to make electoral reforms to comply with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) principles and guidelines governing elections.

A new security law, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill, was also bulldozed through the House last week. Critics have said it criminalises the journalism profession and makes it a crime to criticise Mugabe.

The Bill seeks to impose up to 20 years’ imprisonment, heavy fines, or both for anyone publishing “false” information deemed “prejudicial against the state”. It would make it an offence to publish or communicate “to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention or realising that that there is a real risk of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety; or adversely affecting the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe; or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the Prison Service or the Defence Forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service”.

The New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) immediately called for the repeal of the law in a damning letter fired off to Mugabe.

“The CPJ is outraged at your government’s continued clampdown on independent media in Zimbabwe, including proposed new legislation that could be used to jail journalists for up to 20 years,” the press freedom organisation said in the letter. “At a time when several other African countries are lifting criminal sanctions for press offences, bringing their laws in line with international standards, Your Excellency’s government is preparing to introduce penalties that are among the harshest on the continent.”

The CPJ reminded Mugabe of Zimbabwe’s commitment to the Sadc principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, which include safeguarding freedom of expression and access to the media.

Another Bill, the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO), was passed by parliament — in spite of fierce criticism — last week. It will ban foreign-funded rights groups in the country.

Analysts say the government’s political language in the last few months has signalled the launching of a campaign against NGOs, the latest targets of Zanu PF’s attempt to silence dissent.

Analysts said the proposed electoral law, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Bill, hampers the establishment of an impartial electoral body in four key ways.

“First, the method of appointing electoral commissioners does not provide for the sufficient inclusion of various political parties,” Peter Takirambudde, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division said. “Second, the Bill does not adequately restrict high-ranking political party office holders from being appointed as commissioners. Third, the Bill provides numerous opportunities for ministerial intervention in the work of the commission. Fourth, the establishment of the commission solely through an ordinary statute makes it vulnerable to repeal.”

Mugabe has branded the charities “megaphones for their foreign masters” and “enemies of the state”. Already, two British organisations — Oxfam and Save the Children and a Swiss charity Medair — have been stopped from distributing food to the hungry. Since the tabling of the NGO Bill, whose provisions include a requirement to register with the government-body, the NGO council, there has been a concentrated effort to single out as “imperialist agents” specific groups such as the Amani Trust, Transparency International, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Legal Resources Foundation, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the National Constitutional Assembly — all of whom have helped expose the government’s appalling human rights record.

While the government’s intolerance of NGOs is not new, the current hype against them has shown renewed determination to eliminate dissent and destroy their capacity to function.

Brian Kagoro, a lawyer and human rights activist, said the government was determined to mount a sustained programme to emasculate civil society, pull the rug from under the feet of the established independent organisations and create its own groups. Already, a disturbing trend is evident with the emergence of state-sponsored groups who pose as civil society organisations while promoting Mugabe and state propaganda.

“The issue is not about the NGOs having done anything wrong but about control,” Kagoro said. “They are aiming at clearing the space for their own pliant organisations who will praise the government in the name of nationalism. When people say there is no associational life in Zimbabwe they will simply point to the ones they have created,” he said.

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