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Zimbabwe Government To Tighten Electoral Laws - 2004-03-22

The Zimbabwe government has decided to further tighten electoral laws ahead of next year's parliamentary poll by taking control of voter education.

Under terms of a bill newly published in the government gazette, all voter education would be handled by the Electoral Supervisory Commission, whose members are appointed by President Robert Mugabe.

According to Reginald Matchaba-Hove, head of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a long-established non-governmental organization, these changes were first intended for the presidential election in 2002.

He says the government didn't manage to push the legislation through last time, but has begun working early, ahead of next March's parliamentary poll.

Mr. Matchaba-Hove said the proposed legislation is a clear indication that there will be no reforms to bring electoral laws in line with the norms and standards of the Southern African Development Community, of which Zimbabwe is a member.

He said he believed the government intends to reduce the number of urban parliamentary seats and increase those in rural areas for next year's elections. He said this action could lead to even more chaos at the coming vote.

Mr. Matchaba-Hove's organization once provided voter education and trained independent monitors for elections, but it was was disallowed from playing any role in elections for two years.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the M-D-C, won about 90 percent of urban seats when it fought elections in 2000, nine months after it was formed.

The M-D-C claimed the vote was neither free nor fair. It challenged and won several results in court, but President Mugabe's ruling Zanu-P-F appealed. The Supreme Court has still not delivered its decision.

The announcement of this latest change to the electoral laws comes amid M-D-C threats to boycott next year's elections unless certain conditions are met.

It has demanded more than a dozen electoral reforms, in particular an independent electoral authority to oversee all aspects of the poll, before it is willing to participate.

The proposed amendments also include banning foreign donations for voter education unless made through Mr. Mugabe's Electoral Supervisory Commission. The bill also seeks to make political graffiti in public places an offense.