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ZIMBABWE: Concern over election observers delay
February 14, 2005

JOHANNESBURG - The government of Zimbabwe says it will reduce the number of local election monitors and bar teams from the European Union (EU) from observing the parliamentary poll scheduled for 31 March.

Patrick Chinamasa, the justice, legal and parliamentary affairs minister, told IRIN there was a need to reduce the number of observers to avoid "chaos", and alleged that observer teams from the EU had tried to destabilise the country in the past.

"We have to limit the number of observers because we do not want a situation where 100 people come to disturb the polling process on the pretext of observing it," Chinamasa said, adding that the country was in the process of sending invitations for election observer missions to Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries and members of the African Union (AU).

Foreign affairs spokesperson Pavelyn Musaka was quoted by news agencies as saying that Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland were among the countries that "should not bother" sending teams to Zimbabwe.

Political commentators and opposition politicians have warned that the exclusion of some foreign teams, as well as reducing the number of local observers, only served to increase concern regarding the electoral process in Zimbabwe.

Daniel Molokele, a Johannesburg-based Zimbabwean political analyst, accused the government of barring some observer teams so it could hide irregularities in the electoral system.

"Preparations for the elections have been done under grossly unfair laws that curtail the freedoms of the people. Therefore, the need for impartial election observer teams should be emphasized, as a way of keeping a check on the conduct of the poll. However, the exclusion of some local and EU teams undermines an election whose outcome is already dubious," said Molokele.

He said the impartiality of the selected teams was doubtful. "They will most likely invite teams from the African Union and the Pacific countries because most of them are sympathetic to the ZANU-PF government. There is also a high possibility that local observer teams will [consist] of government sympathisers," he said.

Molokela accused the government of deliberate tardiness in issuing invitations to observer missions, to prevent them from making an accurate assessment of conditions in the country in the run-up to elections.

"Election observers should be in Zimbabwe by now, but the government is deliberately delaying their invitations and arrival, so that they may not see what has been done wrongly. SADC is not doing enough to push Zimbabwe to comply with the regional electoral guidelines, which should be guiding the preparations right now," he alleged.

So far only South Africa has announced its readiness to deploy a parliamentary team to observe the elections. President Thabo Mbeki this week called for the urgent deployment of an SADC team that would have the authority to intervene, in order to create a climate conducive to free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.

South Africa has voiced its disquiet over the Zimbabwe government's delays in granting permission to a team of lawyers and a troika of SADC leaders - South African President Thabo Mbeki, Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and outgoing Namibian President Sam Nujoma - which should have visited the country last month to check on its compliance with regional electoral guidelines.

"Zimbabwe has not cleared the teams and we are getting concerned," an official from the ministry of foreign affairs was quoted as saying in the Business Day newspaper on Monday.

This weekend South Africa's tripartite alliance partners, the ruling African National Congress, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party, stressed the need for observers to be deployed in Zimbabwe at the earliest opportunity.

The partners agreed to send observer teams from the Southern African Trade Union Coordinating Council with the SADC observer team. However, political analysts said it was highly unlikely that members of COSATU, which Zimbabwe maintains has a political agenda, would be allowed in as part of the regional labour body's team.

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