Zimbabwe's political environment was relatively calm in November and December and opposition political parties were able to campaign more freely than previously, said the Zimbabwe Election Support Network in a report, but the monitoring group cautioned that campaigns for local, general and presidential elections are still gearing up.
It also raised questions about the redistricting process through which 60 seats will be added to the lower house of parliament, which now has 150 members.
ZESN Chairman Noel Kututwa attributed the increased level of opposition campaign activities to the amendment of laws like the draconian Public Order and Security Act, though President Robert Mugabe has yet to sign the new legislation into law.
The amendments to security, media, broadcasting and electoral laws were passed in parliament with bipartisan support as an adjunct or complement to the crisis resolution talks still in progress with mediation by South African President Thabo Mbeki. Those talks have stalled over constitutional and election-scheduling issues, however.
ZESN was critical of the delimitation process the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has recently concluded. It said this redrawing of constituency lines was based on the voter list updated in part through two mobile voter registration campaigns carried out in late 2007, which it said were "not comprehensive" and failed to reach all eligible voters.
"It is ZESN's view, therefore, that these preliminary delimitation results are based on a flawed registration process," the monitoring group said.
As the the redistricting plan itself, ZESN noted that Harare Province, though assigned the largest number of seats among provinces, received the smallest percentage gain in seats in the distribution of the 60 additional seats (Harare picked up 11 seats or 18.3% of the new constituencies, whereas the predominantly rural Manicaland Province gained 13 seats or nearly 22% of the members being added.
Bulawayo Province, surrounding Zimbabwe's second-largest city, was allocated just five new seats or 8% of the seats being added to the lower house.
ZESN also criticized the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe for what it said was misuse of public resources to fund political activities. It cited in particular the so-called "Million Man March" organized by Mugabe supporters in December, which commandeered municipal vehicles and the national railways to bring in crowds.
ZESN Chairman Kututwa told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that although it is legally possible to challenge the delimitation carried out by the electoral commission, it is too late to do so with elections two months away.
The opposition faction led by Arthur Mutambara agreed it has been able to campaign more freely due to the recent passage of the amendments to security and other laws.
Mutambara formation spokesman Gabriel Chaibva said that where the delimitation process was concerned, his opposition grouping did not want to speak prematurely and was still in the process of analyzing the results.