Zimbabwe says it is introducing a bill to ban independent monitors from observing presidential and parliamentary elections. The country's justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, says the ban will apply to both foreign and domestic monitors.
Once the bill is approved, says Mr. Chinamasa, government officials will have sole authority for checking on and supervising elections. The new law is expected to be introduced in Zimbabwe's parliament before the end of the month.
Civil rights groups and opposition parties say the government is introducing the bill now so it will be in place in plenty of time for presidential elections, scheduled to be held before the end of next March.
President Robert Mugabe is opposed by Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change. Analysts say that he is likely to give Mr. Mugabe the strongest electoral challenge he has faced in his 21 years in power
Welshman Ncube, secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, says the Zimbabwe government wants to ban impartial monitors because it realizes it has no hope of winning a free and fair presidential election.
"They know they will lose unless they cheat. They are making sure the election is run in the middle of the darkness, where there are no eyes watching," says Mr. Ncube.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a coalition of human and civic rights groups that monitors elections, has strongly condemned the government proposal.
The chairman of the network, Reginald Matchaba Hove, says asking government officials to monitor elections is equivalent to asking examination candidates to assess their own work.
The European Union has also voiced its opposition to bills such as this, saying independent monitors are essential for a free and fair presidential election in Zimbabwe.