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Militarised electoral system shatters prospects for democratic poll: coalition
February 02, 2005

HARARE - Zimbabwe cannot hold a democratic election next month because heavily militarised electoral systems and institutions as well as draconian legislation continue to tilt the scale in favour of the government, according to the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CZC) group.

The CZC is a coalition of major pro-democracy and human rights groups, churches, opposition political parties, women's groups, the student and labourmovement in Zimbabwe.

The coalition's reservations about Zimbabwe's readiness to hold a free and fair election emerge as President Robert Mugabe yesterday set March 31 as thedate for the crunch ballot.

In a signed proclamation, Mugabe said he will dissolve Parliament on March 30 to allow for polling the following day for the 120 elected seats.

Nomination hearings for poll candidates will be held on February 18.

In the report entitled "Things Fall Apart", which was prepared last month, the CZC bemoans the deployment of military officers loyal to President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU PF party at the centre of the election system and state institutions responsible for governance.

"Despite minor and cosmetic changes, the electoral laws are still heavily weighed in favour of the incumbent - electoral processes and institutions continue to be militarised or Zanunised," reads part of the report which is expected to be handed over to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) this month.

"Military personnel have been deployed at the centre of state institutions that are responsible for governance such as the judiciary, the Electoral Supervisory Commission, the Delimitation Commission, parastatals and in the administration of elections," the coalition adds.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa yesterday told ZimOnline he had not yet seen the report but still dismissed it in advance saying it was written in Britain. Mugabe and his government blame former colonial master London of fomenting the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe in a bid to oust them from power.

Chinamasa said: "There is nothing worth losing sleep over, as it (the CZC report) was most probably written in London at Downing Street (No 10, residence of British Premier Tony Blair). "

In addition to militarisation of the electoral system, security and Press laws enacted by the government in the last five years have shrunk democratic space that it was nearly impossible for the opposition to carry out its activities or to campaign.

Under the government's Public Order and Security Act, Zimbabweans must seek police permission first before meeting in public to discuss politics. To date the police have only used the law to cancel meetings by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act has seen hundreds of journalists arrested and at least three newspapers including the country's biggest and only private daily paper, the Daily News, closed.

The CZC said the government had also adopted a narrow definition of the country's Citizenship Act to disenfranchise many white Zimbabweans and children of immigrants from countries in the region such as Malawi and Zambia, the majority of whom back the opposition.

Although such "Zimbabweans" were born in the country and lived here all their lives and voted in elections held before 2000, they can no longer do so now because the government says they are not Zimbabweans since their ancestors were not born in the country.

"This narrow definition of citizenship has been targeted at people of foreign descent, with white Zimbabweans branded by President Mugabe as 'aliens' and enemies of the state. This branding or 'otherisation' has been used to disfranchise perceived MDC sympathisers," the CZC said in its report.

The CZC dismissed recent government electoral reforms that saw a new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) appointed to run polls in the country as minor and cosmetic.

For example, the coalition pointed out that the chairman of the new commission, High Court Judge George Chiweshe, is a former army colonel who only joined the bench after Mugabe purged the independent judges.

Chiweshe also headed the Delimitation Commission that redrew voting constituencies chopping off three constituencies from opposition strongholds and awarding them to rural areas where Mugabe and ZANU PF enjoy more support. - ZimOnline

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