Rights group accuses Zimbabwe president of buying votes

March 21st, 2008 - 4:10 pm ICT by admin  

Harare/Johannesburg, March 21 (DPA) Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has used massive bribery and biased state media to ensure he wins next week’s polls and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has not been able to stop him, a rights body has said. “The SADC initiative has failed to achieve its objective of establishing an electoral environment in Zimbabwe in which free and fair elections will take place,” the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO forum said Thursday in a lengthy pre-election report.

South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki mediated talks between Zimbabwe’s government and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) last year, wresting a number of concessions from both parties ahead of the March 29 national polls.

But, the forum said, the 84-year-old Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF still refuse to accept that Zimbabweans “have the right to freely choose whom to elect into government”.

It said ZANU-PF continues to intimidate the opposition and voters, charges levelled against the party in previous contested elections in 2000, 2002 and 2005.

Mugabe will stand in next week’s polls against Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC for the second time.

The longtime Zimbabwean leader has two other contenders: former finance minister Simba Makoni and the little-known Langton Towungana, an independent candidate from Victoria Falls.

Pointing to the recent handouts of farm machinery and pay hikes for civil servants, the forum said Mugabe had engaged in “massive vote-buying”.

When challenged on the legality of the handouts in view of the imminent polls, the head of the state Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), George Chiweshe, said he was “unable to comment on issues like that because they are of a political nature”, the forum charged.

It also lambasted Mugabe’s use of derogatory language when referring to Tsvangirai and Makoni and his use of state media that has provided only very negative coverage of the MDC.

Statements by defence chiefs that they would only accept Mugabe as president amount to treason and a threat to stage a military coup, the forum said.

A recent private opinion poll showed Tsvangirai to be in the lead with more than 28 percent of the vote against just over 20 percent for Mugabe.

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