Representatives of Zimbabwean civil society groups met on Friday with South African election observers to express concerns about the electoral process just over a week before March 29 elections that some analysts are already calling compromised.
Civic groups represented at the meeting at a Harare hotel included the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the National Association of Non-governmental Organizations and the Zimbabwe Peace Project, among others.
Issues discussed ranged from the election environment, which has seen intimidation of and violence against opposition candidates and supporters by alleged militants of the ruling ZANU-PF party, a lack of transparency in postal balloting, and the proposed counting of presidential ballots at a national command center in Harare.
Around 30 South African observers were present including members of South Africa's ruling African National Congress, opposition members, and parliamentarians.
Board Member John Chitekuteku of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organizations told reporter Patience Rusere that the responses by the observers to their comments and concerns ranged from sympathetic to skeptical.
The International Crisis Group this week issued a report concluding that the elections are "already flawed by pre-poll misbehavior" by the government, and warning that the international community should be prepared to provide ?concerted backing? to an intervention by the African Union when the outcome is "heatedly disputed."
The ICG said President Robert Mugabe, 84, "probably has the means to manipulate the process sufficiently to retain his office, though possibly only after a runoff, but there is little prospect of a government emerging...capable of ending the crisis."
Should the post-electoral situation deteriorates, "the African Union needs to be ready to offer prompt mediation for a power-sharing agreement between presidential contenders and creation of a transitional government with a reform agenda."
It warned that, "If the elections go badly, so that violence increases, the humanitarian crisis grows worse, and the population exodus puts the stability of regional neighbors under greater pressure, the (U.N.) Security Council may yet need to take up the deteriorating situation. For now, the wider international community must be ready to provide concerted backing to an AU-led mediation," the ICG report concluded.