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Zimbabwe Parliament Adopts Election Reforms but Opposition Not Satisfied

Zimbabwe's opposition has branded as insufficient reforms adopted by parliament on Thursday, that will govern parliamentary elections scheduled for March. The legislature, which is controlled by the ruling Zanu-PF party, also banned foreign funded Human Rights organizations and heard President Robert Mugabe's annual state-of-the-nation address.

Mr. Mugabe called for a peaceful election, and briefly referred to electoral reform and a set of principles he agreed to at a Southern African Development Community summit in Mauritius three months ago. The principles include independent administration of elections, free access to the media and the presence of foreign observers.

But Mr. Mugabe said only invited observers would be allowed to monitor the parliamentary election scheduled for March.

"As government has indicated, the poll will only be conducted in terms of our national laws, with outside observers coming in strictly on the basis of invitation," Mr. Mugabe said. "I am happy that recent amendments to electoral laws are more than compliant with standards and guidelines we developed, agreed to and adopted at SADC."

Shortly after Mr. Mugabe ended his address, parliament got down to business, passing a law that establishes what Zanu-PF says is an independent election commission.

The secretary-general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Welshman Ncube, told parliament the reforms do not meet even the basic criteria for free and fair elections. The party decided in August to suspend participation in all elections until Zimbabwe's electoral laws and political climate satisfy the SADC electoral principles.

Zimbabwe's parliament also adopted an even more controversial law late Thursday - the Non Governmental Organization Act. The law makes it illegal for non-governmental organizations to deal with human rights and governance issues, if they receive foreign funding and are not licensed by the government.

Mr. Ncube of the opposition called that law a return to the 'dark ages.'

The legislation is now awaiting Mr. Mugabe's signature.