Zimbabwe?s President Robert Mugabe says he will allow a United Nations high-ranking envoy to help the country conduct a free and fair presidential runoff election later this month. This comes after Mr. Mugabe met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the ongoing food summit in the Italian capital, Rome. The U.N secretary-general reportedly urged Mugabe to ensure the escalated violence in the rural areas is halted ahead of the run-off.

Meanwhile, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has dismissed President Mugabe?s gesture, saying the ruling ZANU-PF party would use the U.N. envoy?s presence as a propaganda tool to legitimize Mr. Mugabe?s 28-year rule.

Glen Mpani is the regional coordinator for the transitional justice program of the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that the runoff election would neither be free nor fair.

?I think one of the important things that Mugabe has wanted to come out of this election was for him to be able to get legitimacy. And that he is realizing that part of the problem that has plaqued the previous election and this election is that the contested nature of the way things are being run, this has to do with the electoral environment, the way the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has run the election, and basically the violence that has engulfed the nation at the moment. And I think for him [Mugabe] to request for a high level delegation, is more or less like a face-saver to say ?I am open to you come in to assist me,? Mpani noted.

He said the runoff might not be free and fair despite government promises.

?I think with 23 days left to the election, with the country cordoned off, blocking opposition leaders from campaigning, I don?t think there is anything much that the delegation can do because the damage has already been done,? he said.

Mpani concurred that the presence of any United Nations official ahead of the runoff would be a political tool for the ruling ZANU-PF party.

?It is true because I think for him [Mugabe] to allow them to come in at this juncture. Obviously, the observers are now coming into the country, and as they come in, they [government] are going to stage-manage an environment that is conducive for an election because if you can remember, for the past weeks people have been battered, people?s houses have been destroyed and people have been secretly registered. So, the damage has already been done,? Mpani, pointed out.

He said the upcoming presidential runoff election would be challenging for poll observers.

?I don?t think it would be fair for anybody or organization to pass a judgment on this election without taking into consideration what has been happening for the past four, five, six weeks. That is why the reasoning that an election is not the right way to go in Zimbabwe makes sense,? he said.

Mpani said Zimbabweans are immune to bad publicity the government has been getting throughout the world.

?I don?t think Zimbabweans are surprised about what has happened. I think they always expect the worst from their government. So, what has happened is part of a systematic process to ensure that whoever criticizes the government, whoever exposes what the government is doing is intimidated or is pushed out so that they [government] can be able to continue creating and environment where they are going to win the election,? Mpani noted.

He reiterated the runoff election might not be credible despite the expected presence of regional and U.N. observers.

?I think for us to be talking about free and fair elections, I think it would be a misplaced step because we have to look at it from holistic way. Whether observers come in or not, we have seen that seven people have already been fired from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, and I don?t think they are going to give coverage to the opposition. More so, Morgan [Tsvangirai] has not been able to hold a single rally in Zimbabwe, so there is no way we are going to have a free and fair election,? he said.