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US: Zimbabwe Election Orderly, Tilted to Favor Ruling Party

The U.S. State Department, in a preliminary assessment of Zimbabwe's parliamentary election, says the process was orderly with few reports of misconduct. But it says the campaign was heavily tilted to favor President Robert Mugabe's ruling party.

Officials here agree with local assessments that the parliamentary elections went smoothly, and without the kind of violence and obvious irregularities that marked previous Zimbabwean elections.

But that being said, they are reiterating the U.S. view that the campaign from the beginning was biased in favor of President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. and European diplomats based in Harare formed 25 two-person teams and fanned out across the country to observe the voting.

He said from their reporting, and that of other observers, the process appeared very calm and orderly and that turnout was high, especially in urban areas.

He said there were some reports of ruling party harassment of voters, but that those incidents appeared fairly isolated, and that few people seeking to vote had been prevented from doing so because of long lines at the polls or bureaucratic obstacles.

However, spokesman Boucher said it should be noted that the election took place, in his words, on a playing field that was heavily tilted in favor of the government:

"They had a near-monopoly in the electronic media. They closed down the independent newspaper throughout the whole campaign. Millions of Zimbabweans forced into exile were not permitted to vote from outside the country. Many of the ruling party candidates distributed government-owned food to draw voters to their rallies, and I think generally we'd say that the campaigning took place in an atmosphere of intimidation," he said.

Mr. Boucher said the U.S. officials will take all the factors into account as they make an overall assessment of the conduct and the outcome of the election.

The United States has been a persistent critic of Mr. Mugabe and his policies, though U.S. comments on the latest election have been less caustic than those of the European Union.

An E.U. spokesman earlier this week dismissed the election as phony and said the Europeans would take unspecified punitive steps against the Mugabe government.

The United States joined the European Union in imposing visa restrictions against Mr. Mugabe and close associates in 2002, after the country's long-time leader won another term in what U.S. officials said was a badly flawed election.

Those sanctions were expanded a year later to include targeted U.S. financial penalties against the Zimbabwean leader and more than 70 other government officials and relatives of the president.

U.S. food and other humanitarian aid to Zimbabwe was not affected, and continues.