U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee said Friday international monitoring may provide the only hope for a fair election in Zimbabwe, where voters go to the polls for a presidential runoff June 27. McGee says President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party colleagues will do anything they feel they have to in order to stay in power. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Ambassador McGee, who has assumed a high public profile against electoral abuses, is hardly optimistic about chances for a free election, saying government-inspired violence and fear have already made a "travesty" of the process.
But he says outside monitoring could deter ballot box stuffing and other extreme tactics that could extinguish any hope for political change in Zimbabwe.
In a telephone conference call with Washington reporters, McGee said as many as 500 monitors are expected from the southern African regional grouping SADC and up to 80 from the African Union, and that U.S. and other diplomats are continuing to press for more.
He said outside observers need to arrive as soon as possible and fan out into countryside to demonstrate to voters that they can safely cast ballots.
"The larger number of election observers that we can get out into the field, the better chance of this happening, the better chance of us having free and fair elections in this country," he explained. "Additionally, I think the United States government is continuing to look at all its options on how to deal with this situation here. But as I mentioned earlier, this government absolutely does not care. They could care less what we or anyone else thinks of them and they will continue to do everything they can to win this election and continue in power."
The runoff pits Mr. Mugabe against Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. The MDC leader finished first in the initial round of voting March 29 though election officials said he did not get the outright majority needed to avoid the runoff.
U.S. envoy McGee called for the immediate release of the MDC's second-ranking official, Tendai Biti, who was arrested Thursday on his return to Harare after several weeks abroad, and reportedly will face treason charges, which could carry the possibility of a death penalty.
A veteran diplomat who has served in other world trouble spots, McGee nonetheless said he had never seen anything like the degree of government violence and intimidation that has accompanied Zimbabwe's runoff campaign, during which he said as many as 3,000 people may have been injured severely enough to require hospitalization.
He nonetheless said he expected a sizeable election turnout from Zimbabweans who feel they have nothing further to lose by going to the polls.
"What I would say to the people of Zimbabwe is that you need to make a stand," he added. "I think there are a lot of good-willed people here in Zimbabwe. There are a lot of people that are eager to see change. We have a lot of brave people who are actually putting their lives on the line, trying to help this country towards a democratic future. But I think more people here in Zimbabwe need to step up."
McGee said it is unfortunate that as many as four million Zimbabweans have as he put it, "voted with their feet" by fleeing the country amid the turmoil of recent months.
He said a similar number of people still in the country could be adversely affected by the ban the government announced last week on activities of international aid groups.