The ball is now in Sadc’s court

MOVEMENT for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai this week resumed his party’s diplomatic offensive in the region after an absence of almost two years. The government returned his travel documents last week followin

g his acquittal on treason charges two weeks ago.

Tsvangirai’s diplomatic shuttling covered South Africa and Mauritius. His team is also expected to travel to other Southern African Development Community (Sadc) countries soon.

The key issue on Tsvangirai’s agenda is Zimbabwe’s general election in March next year.

Tsvangirai raised electoral concerns with South African president Thabo Mbeki and Mauritian prime minister Paul Berenger who will be in charge of Sadc institutions at the time of Zimbabwe’s election.

Mbeki is the chair of Sadc’s organ on politics, defence and security which deals with elections, while Berenger is the chairman of Sadc.

It is therefore appropriate for Tsvangirai to discuss with the two leaders Zimbabwe’s political crisis and its implications for the region ahead of next year’s election in the context of Sadc’s principles governing democratic elections.

Tsvangirai says he wants the region to encourage government to hold a free and fair election. This can only be done if the Mauritius principles are fully observed. This will in turn ensure a legitimate government and provide a basis for the resolution of Zimbabwe’s protracted crisis.

Without a doubt, next year’s election will be a litmus test of government’s commitment to free and fair elections. Above all, the poll will provide an opportunity for the world to assess Sadc’s commitment to upholding its own election standards that Zimbabwe is prevaricating over. Statements by hawkish ministers Patrick Chinamasa and Jonathan Moyo point to official obduracy over implementation.

Although there are other countries holding elections in the region, including Botswana tomorrow, Zimbabwe remains the key test for Sadc because of its prolonged crisis and its impact on regional economies.

Having endorsed flawed elections in 2000 and 2002, Sadc has an opportunity to salvage its credibility by ensuring Zimbabwe holds a genuine election this time. The ball is firmly in Sadc’s court.

Zimbabwe’s polls have been marred by political violence, intimidation, ballot fraud, and bureaucratic incompetence. The 1985 poll was probably the worst. It was held under a state of emergency, with parts of the country — especially in the south — garrisoned by the military.

A climate of terror prevailed due to a combination of dissident activities and an orgy of state-sanctioned violence and Khmer Rouge-style civilian massacres.

There was intimidation in the 1990 election which surfaced again in 2000 and 2002. The 1995/96 polls were better largely because Zanu PF was facing no more than a symbolic challenge. But these were not truly free and fair elections as the skewed legislative framework and political landscape held sway.

Information minister Moyo validated this widely held view in his book, Voting for Democracy: Electoral Politics in Zimbabwe in 1992. “Fairness and freeness of elections relates to such issues as whether all parties or candidates are able to hold rallies and meetings without undue restrictions and whether they have equal access to the media,” Moyo observed.

“The question of whether elections are free and fair depends not only on what registered voters think but also on the organisational nature of the institutional framework within which voters exercise their right to choose their political leaders.”

However, Moyo is now denying the opposition access to the media which he controls. He has become a shrill crusader for Mugabe’s totalitarian project.

In a democracy elections have to take place regularly, legislative seats must be fully contested, freedom of movement recognised, equal access to the media, and votes counted and announced in a transparent manner. Zimbabwe has only been able to meet only one of these conditions — regular elections!

Sadc principles if implemented in full can deliver free and fair elections. The standards urge member states to have independent electoral institutions, competent and accountable management of elections, as well as transparent supervision. The Grande Baie protocol says it’s imperative to have “impartial, all-inclusive, competent, and accountable national electoral bodies staffed by qualified personnel, as well as competent legal entities including effective constitutional courts to arbitrate in the event of disputes arising from the conduct of elections”.

It urges the upholding of political and civil liberties, respect for freedoms of assembly, association and expression, equal access to the media, and political tolerance.

Although the principles do not specify enforcement procedures and sanctions for failure to comply, Mbeki has said that through Sadc organs member states found to be blatantly in breach of the principles can be “excluded” — meaning expelled — from the group. It is really up to Sadc leaders to ensure member states adhere to its own treaty and protocols. Nothing short of a genuinely free and fair election in Zimbabwe will restore political stability to the region and promote economic prosperity.

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