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South African President Calls for Regional Input in Zimbabwe's Elections

South African president Thabo Mbeki said Sunday that observers should go to Zimbabwe to help with next month’s polls. He said the Southern African Development Community, SADC, should, in his words,” be able to go there and observe, to be able to intervene, to help, to create a situation for fair elections.” But the South African press says so far, the Zimbabwe government has not given the necessary written invitation to the SADC team – which would include lawyers from South Africa, Namibia and Lesotho. According to SADC guidelines, the invitation should come 90 days before elections.

Khabele Matlosa is the senior advisor for research at the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa. He told VOA English to Africa reporter William Eagle the delay in sending the invitation means observers will probably not be able to observe in full the pre-election activities. He says the late accreditation process for observers will likely affect the quality of their work.

The Zimbabwe government says it has made efforts to conform to the electoral guidelines suggested for the region by SADC. For example, it says a bill passed in December establishes an electoral court to settle disputes arising from the polls, and creates another body to monitor the elections. The government also met some opposition demands, such as allowing polling stations to remain open for 12 hours rather than eight. And, it agreed to try to prevent vote fraud by having the fingers of those who have voted marked with indelible ink.

But Mr. Matlosa says there may be problems with some of the reforms. For example, he says during the polls, there may be confusion over the overlapping roles of institutions set up to run the elections and the newly created Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. He also says Zimbabwe has not done enough to incorporate the views of civil society, and of the opposition, in its reforms. It has also not incorporated suggestions made by the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa and the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network – like changing Zimbabwe’s system from” first past the post,” or “winner-takes-all” approach, to a system of proportional representation.