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Countdown to March 2005 parliamentary elections
Extracted from the Monthly Alerts Digest- January 2005
February 07, 2005

The announcement of 31 March 2005 as the polling day for the parliamentary elections coupled with the opposition MDC’s decision to participate in the process, has set the stage for the return bout between the country’s two major political parties.

The opposition MDC gave a spirited performance in the last encounter against Zanu PF despite the unprecedented violence and intimidation perpetrated against its supporters by pro-ruling party vigilantes, state security agents and former freedom fighters.

The 2000 and 2002 parliamentary and presidential elections were widely condemned as not free and fair given the unprecedented levels of violence and intimidation against perceived supporters of opposition parties.

It is against the backdrop of those violent elections that the nation is now being subjected to the incessant exhortations for a peaceful campaign period ahead of the elections on 31 March.

While these exhortations are welcome, the announcement of the election date no doubt evokes fear and uncertainty among the populace given the violence, torture, abductions, threats and intimidation which marred the previous elections.

During those elections, news teams were held hostage, journalists were assaulted and arrested, The Daily News’ offices and its printing press were bombed notwithstanding the threats against media workers.

It is therefore imperative for senior government officials, the police, state security agents and all the contesting political parties to declare publicly that the media are a vital part of the democratic process and are free to go about their lawful business of news gathering without any hindrance or intimidation.

As the 2005 parliamentary elections draw close, MISA-Zimbabwe would like to re-assert its commitment to the promotion of responsible and professional journalism which empowers citizens to make informed choices in deciding who should represent them in the next parliament.

This can only be achieved if journalists seek to report on national issues in a conflict-resolving manner which goes beyond the selfish interests of the contesting political parties and those who control the media.

Journalists should act as the agents of peace and reconciliation as opposed to being purveyors of hate speech which only serves to fuel tensions between members of different political and economic interests.

That Zimbabwe is still battling to recover from the residual effects of the unprecedented nightmarish violence which preceded the 2000 and 2002 elections, cannot be over-emphasised.

MISA-Zimbabwe hopes that President Robert Mugabe’s warning during his State of the Nation Address in December last year of zero-tolerance against any form of violence in the run-up to the elections, will filter to all the contesting political parties and their grassroots supporters.

Politicians should therefore be mindful of the potential infernos they can set ablaze by spreading the gospel of hate and vengeance.

Equally, the integrity of journalism as a profession at the core of democratic practice, is retained, maintained and preserved if journalists remain on high alert against being used as the devil’s advocates during the campaign period.

We, therefore, call upon the government to create an enabling environment which allows for the equal participation of all citizens in the election process and allow all political parties access to the public broadcaster.

This can only be achieved by ensuring that journalists enjoy unrestricted movement and increased access to information as guaranteed by the regional and international charters, declarations, principles and conventions ratified by Zimbabwe.

In re-affirming its commitment to the promotion of responsible journalism guided by the cardinal principles of accuracy, truthfulness, objectivity and fairness, MISA-Zimbabwe will continue to work closely with all the relevant players to ensure a violence-free campaign period.

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