Demilitarise Zim polls: NGOs
by James Mombe
JOHANNESBURG – Zimbabwe’s civil society groups have called for the demilitarisation of the country’s electoral institutions and processes, while also suggesting polls should be deferred until democratic reforms have been implemented and taken root.
“We call for the demilitarisation of the political and electoral processes before the holding of any elections. The security sector (military, police and the state intelligence) must refrain from engaging and interfering with the electoral processes,” the groups said, speaking ahead of a summit of SADC leaders in Namibia tomorrow.
The SADC is a guarantor of Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement known as the between the global political agreement (GPA) that gave birth to the coalition government of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Under the pact Zimbabwe must adopt a new constitution and implement wide-ranging electoral reforms before holding new polls.
But the reforms are lagging behind amid incessant bickering between Mugabe’s ZANU PF party and Tsvangirai’s MDC, with each accusing the other of blocking full implementation of the GPA.
The former foes have also differed over when elections should be held with Mugabe, who at 87 plans to run for president one more time, insisting they should be held this year once a new constitution is in place.
Tsvangirai – the favourite to win the next presidential vote but with no guarantee Mugabe’s allies in the military will allow him to takeover power – has said polls should not be held this year even after adoption of a new constitution.
The former opposition chief says a new constitution and several proposed electoral reforms would need to be given time to take root to ensure any future vote is free and fair – a position echoed by the non-government organisations (NGOs) in their statement.
“Zimbabwe is a fragile state; serious consideration must be given to the timing of the next elections,” the NGOs said. “As it is, the country’s institutional and legal infrastructure as well as the psychology of the people is not ready for what will certainly be a critical and hotly contested election.”
The NGOs that include Zimbabwe’s biggest labour union, pro-democracy groups, women’s rights groups and the student movement called on the SADC to appoint a team to ensure and monitor implementation of the GPA and the democratic reforms envisaged under the political pact.
The rights groups also called for an end to political violence resurgent in many parts of Zimbabwe and said the Harare coalition must act to uphold citizens’ basic rights and freedoms including the freedom of the press.
It was not immediately clear whether Zimbabwe will come up for discussion at the SADC summit after unconfirmed reports that South African President Jacob Zuma might not be able to attend the conference because of other pressing commitments.
Zuma is the SADC’s chief mediator in Zimbabwe and was due to present a report to regional leaders about the political and security situation in Harare.
Zuma, who replaced former South African President Thabo Mbeki as SADC’s Zimbabwe mediator, appeared to take a tougher approach towards Mugabe when he mobilised the regional bloc’s special organ on politics and security to issue a statement that strongly criticised political violence in Zimbabwe.
While the organ that met in Zambia earlier this month did not directly criticise Mugabe it raised most of the concerns voiced by Tsvangirai, who says veteran President’s allies in the security forces have intensified a crackdown on his MDC party in recent months.
Zimbabwe’s elections have been characterised by political violence and gross human rights abuses with the last vote in June 2008 ending inconclusively after the military-led a campaign of violence and murder that forced Tsvangirai to withdraw from a second round presidential ballot
Tsvangirai had been tipped to win the second round election after beating Mugabe in the first round ballot but without the percentage of votes required to avoid the run-off poll. The former foes eventually bowed to pressure from southern African leaders to agree to form a government of national unity. —
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