Fairness of Zimbabwe elections compromised: Rights body

March 19th, 2008 - 8:02 pm ICT by admin  

Harare/Johannesburg, March 19 (DPA) Any prospect of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe on March 29 have been undermined by “serious electoral flaws and human rights abuses,” Human Rights Watch said Wednesday. Close to six million Zimbabweans are registered to vote in synchronized presidential, parliamentary and local elections, in which 84-year-old President Robert Mugabe is seeking to extend his 28-year leadership by five years.

In a report entitled All Over Again: Human Rights Abuses and Flawed Electoral Conditions in Zimbabwe’s Coming General Elections, the New-York-based watchdog accuses the government of vote buying, intimidating the opposition and restricting freedom of association and assembly.

Human Rights Watch also points to biased coverage in state media of the election and of the use of violence by state agents against human rights activists and opposition supporters.

The atmosphere in this election campaign is described by most in Zimbabwe as far less repressive than in other polls since 2000.

Mugabe’s main challengers, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and former finance minister Simba Makoni have, for example, been able to campaign in ruling party strongholds.

“Despite some improvements on paper to the election regulations, Zimbabweans aren’t free to vote for the candidates of their choice,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The organization called on international observers, in particular those from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to take into account the context in which the elections are held and not just the voting when making their assessment of the polls’ fairness.

SADC’s credibility as an observer in Zimbabwe elections was compromised in 2002 presidential elections after it failed to raise the flag over voter intimidation and flagrant irregularities.

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