Demilitarise Zim polls body: NGOs
HARARE – Zimbabwean rights groups have said the international community should apply more pressure to Harare to adopt a clear roadmap to new elections while demanding the demilitarisation of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission as a condition to a free and fair vote.
The Zimbabwe Europe Network (ZEN), a coalition of rights groups that includes the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, told a meeting of foreign donors in Brussels that it was deeply concerned with the slow progress in implementing the global political agreement.
The unity government formed in 2009 between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has managed to stabilise the economy but has failed to undertake critical media, electoral and security reforms needed to democratise the country.
ZEN said there was still widespread state-sanctioned violence, partisan application of the law and a rise in the deployment of soldiers in the countryside to campaign for Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
“There is a general consensus amongst civil society that, due to the prevailing political environment, Zimbabwe is not ready for elections in 2011 without extensive constitutional and legislative reforms as outlined in the GPA, including the constitutional reform process, media and electoral reforms,” ZEN said.
Mugabe, who turns 88 next year wants fresh presidential and parliamentary elections held this year and accuses his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rivals of stalling on a new constitution to delay the polls.
But the MDC says without a new constitution, an overhaul to security and electoral laws, the election will be heavily tilted in favour of the octogenarian leader and his ZANU-PF party.
Tension has been rising in the country in the past weeks with the MDC accusing ZANU-PF (which controls the police and the prosecution service) of political persecution by arresting members of the party’s top leadership.
ZANU-PF and MDC political negotiators were expected to meet yesterday to try come up with timelines to the electoral roadmap that was adopted by Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders at a summit last month.
ZEN said SADC together with African Union and United Nations should help deploy peace-keeping monitors at least three months ahead of elections to avoid state-sponsored violence.
Zimbabwe’s previous elections have been marked by violence since independence in 1980 and the security service has been accused of helping ZANU-PF supporters, war veterans and youth militia in a violent campaign against Mugabe’s opponents, especially the MDC.
ZANU-PF denies the charge, instead the former ruling party says this is propaganda peddled by MDC to gain international sympathy and justify its losses at the ballot box.
Last week Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba said the military was justified to dabble in politics, adding that the army would die to keep Mugabe in power, in comments that angered ordinary Zimbabweans and raised fears the military could block the MDC from taking power even if it won the next elections.
“All soldiers currently deployed across the country should be returned and confined to their barracks; all service chiefs should publicly commit to restricting their activities to their constitutional mandate and separating themselves completely from interference in political and electoral matters,” ZEN said in its presentation to Western donors.
The organisation said donors should increase financial and technical support to civic society groups to ensure continued monitoring of the mining of diamonds from the controversial Chiadzwa fields to make sure the resource is not used to fund political violence.
Five companies have been licenced to mine diamonds in Chiadzwa, including three owned by the Chinese, but production figures and earnings have rarely been made public, leading to allegations that Mugabe loyalists were also involved in illegal mining of the gemstones.