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Zimbabwe Drafting New Election Laws - 2004-07-16

Early next week, election officials from the Southern African Development Community will meet in Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls to put final touches on new principles for elections in the region. The principles are expected to be adopted at a regional summit in Mauritius next month. The meeting comes as Zimbabwe is preparing for parliamentary elections next year, amid pressure for reform.

Zimbabwe's legal draftsmen are crafting new laws to be presented to parliament when it resumes later this month, in its final session before general elections next March.

The new laws emerge from decisions made by the ruling Zanu PF party's highest decision making body, the politburo, last month.

President Robert Mugabe is under pressure from neighboring countries to reform Zimbabwe's electoral laws to bring them into line with the principles expected to be approved at next month's summit in Mauritius.

The Southern African Development Community's principles on elections, to be discussed in Victoria Falls ahead of the summit, are similar to those that have been demanded by Zimbabwe's civil rights organization and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

They call for political tolerance, freedom of association, the independence of the judiciary and the impartiality of electoral institutions.

Most foreign observer groups that monitored Zimbabwe's disputed presidential election in 2002 said none of those conditions prevailed at that time.

Recently, the African Union broke with tradition and compiled a report criticizing Zimbabwe's recent human rights record. Although the report was not adopted by the AU summit this month, it was given wide pubicity in the region. The Zimbabwe government has reacted angrily to the criticism from other African countries.

Some countries in the region have begun to pressure President Mugabe to reform electoral laws, which at present he can and does change himself without parliamentary approval.

Political analysts say that the ruling Zanu PF is fully confident it can win the next general election, but that it needs to get the international community, particularly African countries, to endorse the voting as free and fair. Next week's meeting in Victoria Falls will begin to provide a framework for that.