By Bill Cocoran
A regional summit tasked with assessing the preparations for Zimbabwe’s upcoming general elections has warned that organising a credible poll by the July 31st deadline will be difficult.
The assessment by regional leaders who attended the Southern African Development Community (SADC) peace and security meeting in Pretoria on Saturday has come amid growing concerns that Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party is trying to rig the poll to secure victory.
Zimbabweans will vote on July 31st to end a shaky powersharing arrangement between Zanu-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, which was sponsored by SADC following disputed polls in 2008.
Last month SADC urged Zimbabwe’s government to delay the election to allow time to apply reforms that would ensure a free and fair vote, giving the new government legitimacy.
The reforms, agreed to by the signatories of the 2009 deal, would limit the military’s role in politics, strip ghost voters from the electoral roll and ensure all eligible voters were registered.
But Mr Mugabe and his allies have ignored the request.
An indication of how chaotic the poll could turn out can be ascertained from a vote held early last week for members of the security forces who will be on duty when citizens cast their ballots.
Thousands of policemen and soldiers were unable to vote in two days of polling due to shortages of ballot papers, indelible ink and boxes.
Putting together an election within a month “is very stressful and to have everything organised, you know it is quite a mammoth task”, said Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete, who attended the SADC meeting.
“That’s why we are seeing the incidents of the early voters, where half of them couldn’t vote . . . So it’s going to be a tough election to organise.”
He added SADC would do what it could to ensure the poll was free and fair.
While there have been no signs of the violence that plagued the 2008 poll, analysts have warned the electoral roll is in disarray and is open to manipulation. There is also no indication of where the money will come from to hold the poll.
South African president Jacob Zuma is leading the SADC mediation team on Zimbabwe, and the regional body has deployed 360 observers to oversee the poll. US and European monitors have been banned from participating by Mr Mugabe. Irish Times