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Zimbabwe Election Watch Issue No. 8
October 09, 2007

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Executive Summary

Expectations generated by the South African mediated talks that Zimbabwean voters would be registered to create a new and transparent voters' roll before the elections in March next year were dealt a blow last week by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

Chinamasa said there would be no re-registration of voters to create ward-specific voters' rolls. In response, stakeholders said the proposed system would prejudice many voters as the delimitation exercise was yet to start.

According to a Zimbabwean commentator, even if the electoral laws are changed, it is impossible to hold democratic elections unless the environment allows all parties to campaign freely in a climate of political tolerance.

Faced with escalating reports of ruling party militants unleashing terror in rural areas and creating no-go zones, the Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) elections secretary Ian Makone says there is no prospect of elections being free and fair in these areas.

In Chipinge, where the MDC has held successful rallies, scores of terrified people have fled the district due to fresh political violence. This has led to the arrest and assault of MDC activists, one of whom is reportedly battling for his life.

In Mutare, police disrupted a public meeting organised by the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) to discuss the forthcoming election. Security police stormed the venue where former Zanu PF stalwart Edgar Tekere had launched a blistering attack on Mugabe's human rights record and harassment of the opposition.

The victimisation of student leaders has intensified and a Youth Forum public meeting in Masvingo was disrupted by government militia, leading to bloody clashes. The police reacted by arresting youths from the civic organisations.

A Zanu PF ward chairperson in the Headlands area deliberately started a fire which destroyed eight cottages on a plot belonging to the MDC chairlady for the Headlands ward. The cottages accommodated victims of Operation Murambatsvina who were once again rendered homeless.

In their August report, the human rights monitoring group, Zimbabwe Peace Project, confirmed that cases of politically-inspired violence had increased, while space for the church and civil society continued to shrink.

The government maintains its monopoly of the airwaves through a previous law giving ownership of all radio and television frequencies to the state broadcaster. Opposition parties are denied access.

Even if liberalised media laws are in place by end October, commentators stress it will take time to set up a free daily press and develop a non-partisan broadcaster.

Ironically, the state media recently imposed a blackout on the activities of Ray Kaukonde, governor of Mashonaland East province. Kaukonde is part of a powerful Zanu PF faction that is pushing for Mugabe's ousting from power.

The Swedish Cooperative Centre has published a damning report on the manipulation of food aid by the Mugabe government: "Be loyal - or starve". The organisation is demanding the creation of an independent food observer force to ensure that food reaches those in most need.

An extraordinary top-secret security document leaked to the media reveals a carefully manipulated plan designed to destroy the reputation of outspoken cleric Archbishop Pius Ncube.

And finally, even members of theatre groups are not immune from government paranoia. Two actors and a journalist who challenged their arrest for staging a play about the country's political crisis were arrested by Harare police.

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