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SADC faces poll credibility test
Njabulo Ncube, The Financial Gazette (Zimbabwe)
March 17, 2005

AS DEVELOPMENTS in Namibia, where the country’s High Court last week ordered a recount of the national assembly electoral votes, cast serious questions on the capacity of the Southern African Development Com-munity (SADC) states to preside over untainted polls, local observer groups find themselves having to contend with a heavy financial burden that could diminish their effectiveness in the March 31 parliamentary election.

Zimbabwean civic groups intending to field observers in all 120 constituencies will have to fork out hundreds of millions of dollars to cover all 8 277 polling stations planned by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) the electoral body to run all the country’s national elections and referenda.

SADC desperately hopes for an undisputed election outcome in the poll could bring to an end Harare’s nagging five-year political impasse. Critics are adamant that the region, led by South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, could have done more to resolve the five-year political crisis.

Information reaching The Financial Gazette indicates that local civic organisations, already grappling with donor fatigue and general apprehension wrought on by the Non-Governmental Organi-sations (NGO) Act, need to fork out $100 000 per observer in the 120 constituencies in and around the country.

An organisation intending to field an observer at each of the 8 227 polling stations proposed by ZEC will be entitled to pay more than $822 million.

Players in the sector said the figure did not include transport costs, out of pocket allowances, accommodation and other incidentals for each person. Foreign observers are required to pay US$100.

The Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC), which started vetting aspiring local observers, was, however, on Tuesday still yet to inform local civic organisations and other interested observers that applied for accreditation on the outcome of their individual requests.

Applications for local observer status were invited about a month ago.

However, sources within the country’s NGO fraternity this week charged that the participation fee of $100,000 per person being charged by the ESC was exorbitant, coming as it does at a time when international donors were wary of bankrolling local organisation due to government charges that western countries were agitating for President Robert Mugabe to effect a regime change.

Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, the national director of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, bemoaned the expenses associated with the poll, adding it would financially cripple stakeholders interested in observing the country’s elections. ZESN is an umbrella body of local civic organisations with an interest in Zimbabwe’s electoral process.

Chipfunde-Vava also expressed concern at delays by the ESC in releasing the names of approved local observers. ZESN, which represents about 40 institutions with an interest in the staging of free and fair elections as outlined by the SADC Mauritius Protocol, applied to have 6 138 observers.

"We have applied for 6 138 observer posts but we are yet to get a reply from the ESC," Chipfunde-Vava said. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa on Tuesday however indicated the ZESN had been invited among the 8 548 local observers from 29 "non-partisan organisations".

"We would have wanted to field observers at all the polling stations but charges of $100 000 per person are proving to be prohibitive," bemoaned Chipfunde.

ZESN would need to pay more than $600 million just for registration, minus accommodation, transport, out of pocket allowances, among other incidentals.

In the 2002 President polls ZESN applied for 12 000 observers but the state election body only acceded to 400 names.

Added Chipfunde-Vava: "This is the kind of money that we don’t have. We can’t afford to have observers at all the more than 8 000 polling stations. As for transport and accommodation, we have no choice but appeal for assistance. We need vehicles to cover all the 120 constituencies."

Government has been accused of cherry-picking election observers for the poll. Russia is the only European country invited to send an observer mission.

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