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tough job for Mbeki
May 03, 2007
scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary general elections
next year and the Southern African Development Community (SADC)
has delegated the task of ensuring they are free and fair to President
Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.
fair polls can be held only where there exists an environment that
seeks to provide popular participation, promotes human rights, guarantees
fundamental freedoms, ensures accountability of the government and
freedom of the judiciary and press, and protects and respects political
None of these
conditions exist in Zimbabwe, nor are they likely to exist between
now and next April, as there is an absence of decisive action to
bring them about.
statements from SADC do not inspire confidence in that organisation's
efforts to resolve the crisis. There is a real risk that the regional
efforts will end up promoting an electoral process that will legitimise
the Mugabe government.
Yet there is
an absolute need to ensure that the next election in Zimbabwe is
not only free and fair but also seen to be free and fair if it is
to be accepted by all political factions as well as by the outside
under which the elections are to be held present enormous challenges.
These include the lack of a democratic culture of political tolerance,
political violence and high levels of intimidation and bias.
There are also
huge logistical concerns. Previous elections were characterised
by selective voter registration and the gerrymandering of electoral
districts. The police and the army have proved themselves partial
and are often used by the government to frustrate free political
activity. They do not inspire confidence.
is heightened by an institutional culture that tolerates a profound
disrespect for human rights. This makes the police unsuitable to
guard the polling stations and perform other election-related functions,
such as transporting ballot papers, without supervision.
create suspicion and doubt about the integrity of the process and
make it essential that, if it is to have any chance of success,
Mbeki's mission has to put in place credible structures that will
tackle these challenges.
In the South
African process in 1994, special structures -- such as the transitional
executive council -- were established to ensure that the apartheid
regime did not undermine the transition to democracy.
Also, the international
community often monitors national elections. This is designed to
ensure that elections are held in an atmosphere conducive to the
holding of free and fair elections, thereby ensuring that the process
But such involvement
can be effective only if it involves participation in the whole
spectrum of the national election process. It has to include support
of national election administrations, training of election officials,
election supervision, election observation, election verification,
provision of civilian police and technical assistance on election-related
The final determination
is made easier if the international observers ensure that each stage
of the election is satisfactory and pronounce their judgement at
each of the three key stages: the registration of voters, the campaign
period and the voting and counting of votes.
not be interested only in what happens on the day of the elections.
If he is to reduce the probability of rigging and enhance the integrity
of the process, he should give considerable weight to the conditions
on the ground leading up to the elections.
The big question
that arises is how Mbeki is going to ensure that the right conditions
are in place. What structure is SADC going to put in place to ensure
that necessary conditions are implemented?
It appears that,
for now, SADC's strategy is to make Mugabe reform and dismantle
the autocratic and repressive system he has established. If that
is indeed the strategy, SADC's initiative is bound to fail.
One of the lessons
to be learnt from the recent disgraceful Nigerian elections is that
undemocratic regimes cannot reform themselves. The Mugabe government
will not democratise unless it is pushed.
The role played
by the international community will thus be critical in the outcome
of the mediation process. But, to be effective, it needs to be united.
This will greatly increase the chance of a successful international
determined and united efforts can move Zimbabwe out of its current
is professor of law at Cornell University Law School. He served
as senior political adviser to the special representative of the
secretary general in South Africa and head of the United Nations
observer mission in South Africa, which oversaw South Africa's first
democratic election. In 1999, he was the legal adviser to the United
Nations mission to East Timor
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