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SAF Civil Society Doubtful Of Free And Fair Elections In Zimbabwe

Members of South African Civil Society groups have returned from Zimbabwe, after spending nine days in the country observing the election process. They say few Zimbabweans believe the March 30th parliamentary elections will be free and fair.

Nicolas Dieltiens is a member of the group, the Anti-Privatization Forum. From Johannesburg, he spoke with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about his assessment of the Zimbabwean electoral process.

He says, “It seems to any observer among us, among the six of us who went, that the election situation is very peaceable. I mean the political climate in the country is quite peaceable, but most of the Zimbabweans we spoke to whether in formal meetings or informally expressed some great reservations about whether the elections would in fact be free and fair.” Based on their experience in the previous election, he says many believe that “violence will mar the polls.”

He also says, “(There’s) more particular concern among certain constituencies about disenfranchisement, certainly among the students. The problem because of these reservations is the apathy among voters. The expectation that the polls are rigged beyond any kind of controversion (sic) to some legitimate poll is that the vote is wasted.”

Mr. Dieltiens also says with some three million having left the country in recent years, and their inability to vote in this month’s elections, voter turnout should be down. He says many Zimbabweans expressed concern over the statement by South African President Mbeki that he expected the polls to be free and fair. Some speculate it was an attempt by Mr. Mbeki to distance himself from the United States, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Zimbabwe an outpost of tyranny.

As for recommendations, The Civil Society representative says, “For free and fair polls, it would have to be entirely reconstituted. This election now, it’s a foregone conclusion its limitations on freedoms for citizens of the country. Any kind of possibility for political change in the country I don’t think would be coming from the democratic elections as they have been currently set up.”