Back to Index
vote a rite of passage for SADC guidelines
Nduru, Inter Press Service
is joining other exiled Zimbabwean activists in planning a mock
election in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, ahead of the parliamentary
poll in Zimbabwe on March 31. Hopes are that about 1,000 Zimbabweans
will congregate in front of their country’s embassy to support the
event. For those who do, the March 29 vote will probably be the
closest they will get to casting ballots in their country’s election.
Millions of expatriate Zimbabweans have been denied the right to
participate in the legislative poll (only embassy and other government
officials based overseas will be allowed to vote abroad come Mar.
31). With economic hardship and political persecution having prompted
upwards of three million Zimbabweans to leave their country, the
Harare government reportedly fears that expatriates will support
the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the parliamentary
election. (Zimbabwe’s total population is estimated at almost 13
But, says Molokela – a member of the ‘Crisis in Zimbabwe’ pressure
group – this puts President Robert Mugabe’s administration in contravention
of regional norms.
SADC (Southern African Development Community) principles and guidelines
which call on states to ensure that all citizens have access to
electoral processes and voting," he says, in reference to the ‘SADC
Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections’ that were
agreed on in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius last year. Zimbabwe,
as a member of SADC, has signed up to the electoral code.
"If Mozambique which has less resources than Zimbabwe can allow
its diaspora to vote (in elections last year), why not us?" Molokela
asks. As the March 31 poll draws closer, Molokela’s voice is just
one of a number that have been raised to demand that the SADC guidelines
be rigorously implemented. Many view the parliamentary election
as a key test of the effectiveness of the code – and of SADC’s willingness
to hold member states to account when they fail to hold free and
For its part, the MDC alleges several violations of the SADC rules.
Party supporters plan to stage a march on the Zimbabwean embassy
on March 31 to hand a letter to Ambassador Simon Khaya Moyo in which
these are listed. The MDC’s spokesman in South Africa, Nicholas
Dube, says the contraventions include biased election coverage in
the state media which – under the SADC code – are supposed to provide
equal coverage to all parties.
As IPS has reported previously, the launching of the ruling Zimbabwe
African National Union-Patriotic Front’s (ZANU-PF) election campaign
received four hours of live coverage by the state media. In contrast,
the MDC’s campaign launch was given less than three minutes by state
television during an evening news bulletin in early February. And,
"After the news bulletin, Mugabe was granted a two-hour interview
to explain his party’s manifesto. Two weeks later the MDC was given
a 15-minute interview to explain its manifesto," Dube told IPS.
"Ninety percent of the state airwaves is dominated by the ruling
ZANU-PF. This runs against SADC standards."
To make matters worse, there are no private television or radio
stations in Zimbabwe that could provide more equitable coverage
of the campaign. The only privately-owned daily, the ‘Daily News’,
was banned in 2003 under the country’s controversial Access to Information
and Protection of Privacy Act – leaving a few independent weekly
papers the task of giving Zimbabweans a balanced view of campaigning.
Sokwanele, a Zimbabwean pressure group, has been measuring the performance
of the Mugabe regime against the SADC principles and guidelines
since October 2004.
"Over this period a clear pattern has emerged of a steady movement
by the regime not towards, but rather away from, compliance with
the regional standards on democratic elections," it said in a March
7 editorial published in ‘Mauritius Watch’ – a regular survey provided
by Sokwanele of Zimbabwe’s compliance with SADC electoral guidelines.
"The cumulative effect of their actions and omissions over very
many months considered in conjunction with the flawed electoral
laws and repressive security legislation now in place - and all
within the context of the climate of massive fear that now pervades
Zimbabwe - effectively renders any hope of a fair and free election
on Mar. 31, an illusion," the group added.
On March 21, Human Rights Watch, a New York-based non-governmental
organisation, also claimed that Zimbabwe had disregarded the regional
election code. However, South African President Thabo Mbeki this
month rejected suggestions that Zimbabwe was failing to heed SADC
standards. Pretoria has adopted a policy of quiet diplomacy towards
Harare, claiming that high-pitched accusations will do little to
encourage change in Zimbabwe. Critics of the South African government
say Zimbabwe has viewed the lack of overt criticism from Pretoria
as a licence to continue with its behaviour of the past five years.
The last parliamentary poll, in 2000, and presidential elections
in 2002 were marred by political violence and human rights violations
that have, overwhelmingly, been laid at the door of government.
Parallel to this violence, laws have been passed that restrict freedom
of speech and assembly.
Perhaps to the ire of activists, the SADC election standards are
not legally binding.
"SADC cannot enforce it (the polling code) by a way of imposing
sanctions against an offending member state," said Khabele Matlosa
of the Johannesburg-based Electoral Institute of Southern Africa
(EISA) earlier this month. He was speaking at a conference entitled
‘Rethinking Zimbabwe’s Election: A Conflict Prevention Agenda’,
organised by EISA.
The guidelines also require SADC members to ensure political tolerance
ahead of elections and establish impartial electoral institutions
– amongst other measures. While levels of political violence in
Zimbabwe are acknowledged to be lower than they were prior to voting
in 2000 and 2002, rights abuses are still widespread – and there
are concerns about the neutrality of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.