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Commonwealth Suspends Zimbabwe Over Marred Election - 2002-03-19

The 54-nation Commonwealth has suspended Zimbabwe because of its violence-marred presidential election earlier this month. Australia, South Africa, and Nigeria made up the Commonwealth committee that took the action.

The Commonwealth committee said it has suspended Zimbabwe because of "the high level of politically motivated violence" during the recent election.

The action will keep Zimbabwean officials from participating in Commonwealth meetings for the next year, when the situation will be reassessed.

The decision was reached after a meeting in London between Presidents Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, and Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Mr. Howard made the announcement at a news conference in which he came close to calling the re-election of Mr. Mugabe illegitimate.

"We accept the findings of the Commonwealth observer group, and we specifically in the statement say that the conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electorate," Mr. Howard said.

The Australian prime minister said a new election might repair Mr. Mugabe's relations with the Commonwealth. "Of course I would like to see a free, fair, open, and totally democratic, transparent election held as soon as possible," Mr. Howard said.

Mr. Howard also appealed for the international community to help Zimbabwe overcome a food shortage, revive its economy, and achieve political stability.

There had been speculation that Nigeria and South Africa might block Zimbabwe's suspension. Most eyes were on South African President Mbeki, who has been Mr. Mugabe's closest ally.

But Mr. Mbeki is also promoting an African development plan that requires African nations to follow principles of good governance in exchange for Western aid.

The Commonwealth has a tradition of promoting democracy in former British colonies. In recent years, it has suspended Fiji and Pakistan after military coups.