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ZIMBABWE: SA opposition describes run-up to poll as "alarming"
March 18, 2005

JOHANNESBURG, 18 Mar 2005 (IRIN) - Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) members of the South African parliamentary observer mission to Zimbabwe have described their initial impressions of the electoral process as "alarming".

DA representatives reported that "there is widespread intimidation of opposition members and supporters", and members of NGOs were arrested when they tried to conduct voter education programmes, party leader Tony Leon wrote in his weekly letter.

The DA observers claimed that many people believed the youth militias of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party would carry out violent retribution, after the elections, against voters in areas where the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had a strong showing, Leon reported.

Responding for the parliamentary team, senior African National Congress (ANC) official, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, told IRIN: "It is too early to comment on the situation as we are still in the process of deploying people to the various provinces. Any information that any member could have would only be hearsay and any comment they make is not on behalf of the team."

Meanwhile, the Independent Democrats (ID), another South African opposition party, on Friday decided to withdraw from the parliamentary observer mission, calling it "a farce and a waste of taxpayers' money". The ID representative in the mission, Vincent Gore, told IRIN on his return that in the four days he had spent in Zimbabwe, "it was quite clear that the upcoming Zimbabwean elections are not going to be free and fair".

Controversy has dogged the observer team since its leader, South African Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana, was reported to have declared the electoral process in Zimbabwe as free and fair. On Friday he denied making the statement.

Earlier this month South African President Thabo Mbeki announced that the elections in Zimbabwe would be above board, telling a news conference in Cape Town, addressed jointly with Namibia's outgoing President Sam Nujoma: "I have no reason to think that ... the elections will not be free and fair."

Following the reports on Mdladlana's comments earlier this week, the MDC announced that it would not engage with the parliamentary observer team. Mdladlana's "partisan" stance "is an affront to the ideals that guided liberation struggles across Africa", the MDC said in a statement on Thursday.

"We are seeking clarity from the minister. Until then, we have put our interaction with them on hold. We have briefed the SADC [Southern African Development Community] secretariat team, and will also meet with the ANC [-led] observer team," MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi told IRIN on Friday.

Zimbabwe has invited 32 countries to observe the elections. Regional and international organisations to which invitations have been extended include the African Union, SADC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Non-Aligned Movement and the UN.

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