One question that?s been asked repeatedly about tomorrow?s parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe is: Will they be free and fair?
Many critics of the Mugabe government say the election process has been weighted in favor of the ruling ZANU-PF party. One of those agreeing with that view is Nel Marais, a research consultant with the South African firm, Executive Research Associates. From Centurion, South Africa, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about Thursday?s vote.
?Yes, I think one can say that without too much doubt. One should not only focus on what has happened during the last few weeks or what will happen today or tomorrow. The fact is the governing party, ZANU-PF, has been preparing for this election for a long time. And it has taken a number of steps to make sure that the MDC (opposition party) goes into the election as weak as possible. And this has been a very concerted and focused effort from the governing party under the leadership of President Mugabe,? he says.
There?s been controversy over the sending of election observers to Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government has refused some permission to enter the country. But what about those who have entered ? have they been effective? Mr. Marais says, ?No, they cannot be. Zimbabwe made sure they were only allowed into the country at very short notice. So, they missed a great deal of the election campaigns. The numbers are also quite limited. Zimbabwe?s a big country. There are numerous constituencies. So, they can really only visit some of the constituencies. They can only spend limited hours of time there. They have been attending some of the bigger meetings, but all and all I think they can only give an overall impression. There is absolutely no chance they can produce a detailed an accurate report.?
The research consultant for Executive Research Associates says if ZANU-PF wins three-quarters of the parliamentary seats, it may seek changes in the constitution to allow a Prime Minister. Mr. Marais says that could allow President Mugabe to stay on even longer in more of a ceremonial role.