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Zimbabwe Prepares New Electoral Laws - 2004-09-08

The Zimbabwe government has prepared new laws on elections that will change some of the ways in which future voting is managed. Elections will be run by what the government describes as an independent electoral commission, but the opposition says its personnel will be appointed by a bureaucracy controlled by President Robert Mugabe.

The daily Herald newspaper published extensive detail Tuesday on new electoral laws it says will soon go to parliament.

Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold into general elections next March. In the last two national elections the opposition Movement for Democratic Change challenged the results in court, citing flawed election laws, fraud and political violence.

The Herald, which is usually reliable in its reporting on the government's intentions to change legislation or introduce new laws, says a new independent electoral commission will manage some aspects of the polls, but not voter registration.

It says some electoral commissioners will be appointed by the parliament, in which Mr. Mugabe's Zanu-PF party has the majority. Senior public servants appointed by Mr. Mugabe will decide on other members of the electoral commission.

Voter registration will continue to be done by the Registrar General, who is also appointed by the president.

Under the proposed laws, access to the public media, mainly the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, which controls the only television channel and all radio outlets, will only be available to all political parties during the five-week election period.

Opposition legal spokesman David Coltart said Wednesday that the new laws are meaningless.

He says none of the new laws announced in the state press comply with principles Mr. Mugabe agreed to at the summit of the Southern African Development Community in Mauritius last month.

The Movement for Democratic Change has suspended participation in all elections until Zimbabwe's electoral laws embrace all principles adopted by the regional group for free and fair elections.

The announcement of new electoral laws comes at a time of renewed political tension ahead of the opposition party's fifth anniversary celebrations this weekend.

On Tuesday, riot police raided the party's two offices in the second city, Bulawayo, saying they were looking for subversive material.

Before dawn Wednesday, police detained veteran constitutional reformer Lovemore Madhuku, a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.