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  • 2008 harmonised elections - Index of articles

  • Election law was breached in Zim - report
    Angus Shaw, Associated Press
    March 14, 2008

    Harare - Zimbabwe's only television station - which is government-controlled - gave the ruling party campaign more than 20 times the coverage the opposition got last month, independent media monitors said on Thursday, accusing state-controlled media of "flagrant violations" of laws meant to ensure March 29 general elections are free and fair. The Zimbabwe Media Monitoring Project group said that in February state television aired 202 minutes on the ruling Zanu PF party's election preparations compared to nine minutes on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and 26 minutes on former ruling party loyalist and finance minister Simba Makoni's presidential challenge and his expulsion from the ruling party. "ZBC, the national public broadcaster, now behaves as if it is Zanu PF 's own private radio television station in flagrant violation" of domestic laws and regional African norms on fair coverage of election campaigning, the group said.

    Henry Muradzikwa, director general of the state broadcaster, said there was no bias against ruling party opponents but political advertisements had to be paid for in advance, an arrangement opponents failed to honor while the ruling party paid fees "up front". He did not elaborate on news coverage. An independent group of lawyers, meanwhile, protested what it called voter intimidation by military chiefs. Zimbabwe defense forces commander General Constantine Chiwenga and the head of the prisons service Major General Paradzai Zimondi were reported to have vowed they would not recognize or salute anyone but Mugabe as head of state. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said in a statement it was also concerned by reports members of the armed forces were sent on vacation to their rural homes to campaign for Mugabe's ruling party.

    Chiwenga has described Makoni and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as "sell outs" who did not fight against colonial era forces ahead of independence in 1980. Police commanders also have publicly pledged their allegiance to Mugabe, the nation's longtime ruler, and warned police against voting for Mugabe's opponents. Such statements created an environment of fear and intimidation ahead of the polls, the lawyers group said. Under election law, "it is a criminal offense to intimidate people with the effect of compelling them or attempting to compel them to vote for a particular political party or candidate," it said. In a statement Thursday, the International Bar Association condemned what it called a series of attacks by Zimbabwe's on the Law Society of Zimbabwe, citing articles in state-run newspapers accusing the lawyers group of working with the West to get around a government ban on European election observers.

    "These are ominous words in light of the Mugabe regime's record of brutality against the political opposition and human rights defenders," said Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association. "The true objective of this vindictive government campaign is to justify a clampdown on independent lawyers in the run-up to the election." The 84-year-old Mugabe faces his biggest poll challenge March 29 in the campaign of Makoni, 57, who draws support from ruling party rebels and disillusioned supporters of the fractured opposition amid an economic meltdown. A nation once known as the region's breadbasket is experiencing the world's highest official inflation of 100 500 percent, chronic shortages of most basic goods and collapsing public services. Most observers link the political and economic turmoil to the often violent seizures of thousands of white-owned commercial farms that began at Mugabe's orders in 2000. Mugabe blames the crisis on economic curbs imposed by Britain, the former colonial power, and its Western allies, which accuse him of violating human and democratic rights.

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