By Fungi Kwaramba
HARARE – Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC has claimed that the recently released Sadc observer mission report declaring Zimbabwe’s poll largely credible was not a Sadc report but one emanating from the Tanzanian Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Membe.
Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary-general, told a news conference at the MDC headquarters in Harare, that the Sadc observer mission has not yet endorsed Membe’s report.
“We have inquired with a number of Sadc countries and the Sadc secretariat who have professed ignorance to the existence of this report,” Biti said.
“Further, Mr Membe makes reference to a full report of Sadc which he was summarising from. However, this full report is still to be produced.
“He should have only come to Zimbabwe to present the final report. Because the final report was not out, he had no business, with due respect, coming to Zimbabwe,” said Biti.
“We totally reject this report and we know that Sadc observers did not meet. Right now there is confusion because there is no substantive executive, we expect a withdrawal of Membe’s statement.”
Sadc executive secretary Tomaz Salamo recently stepped down, and was replaced by Stergomena Lawrence Tax from Tanzania at the Sadc summit held recently in Malawi.
“We have consulted with other countries and South Africa, we have also consulted the secretariat in Botswana and they are not aware of the report,” said Biti.
The former Finance minister said Membe’s report, which he presented alone, “in the absence of the full observer team”, was at variance with Sadc’s preliminary report on the July 31 polls, which admitted that the country’s elections, although free, had challenges.
“Membe came to Zimbabwe to declare that elections were fair and credible. The interim report does not support that conclusion,” said Biti.
The MDC secretary general questioned the legitimacy of Membe saying “we see efforts to undermine Sadc by producing reports that have no legal standing, no support from Sadc, all in the interests of addressing the challenges of a regime that is seeking legitimacy.”
The Sadc election observer mission on Monday unveiled what it claimed to be a final report on Zimbabwe’s July 31 poll which it endorsed as “free, peaceful and generally credible”.
The regional bloc has struggled to justify its endorsement of the elections, which have been slammed by western governments and the MDC as a “farce.”
The EU has called for an independent audit of the vote, while the US has said the vote was “flawed” and will maintain sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Membe, who headed the Sadc election observer mission, told reporters at a press briefing in Harare that despite the shortcomings, the elections were free and had expressed the will of the people.
“The elections that took place on 31 July 2013 were free – free in the sense that our observers noted that the candidates were free to campaign, free to associate, free to express their views and the voters were free to cast their votes.”
President Robert Mugabe won 61 percent of votes against Tsvangirai’s 34 percent. Biti said regional leaders met on June 15 in Maputo and agreed that the conditions prevailing in Zimbabwe were not conducive for the conduct of a free, fair and credible election.
“It is sad how this report can now conclude that an election held in an environment that needed reforms can be said to be free, peaceful and credible,” Biti said.
“A report of any Sadc Election Observer Mission is supposed to make reference to the Sadc Guidelines Governing the Conduct of Democratic Elections, which are supposed to act as the basis for judging the freeness, fairness and credibility of the election.”
Regrettably, said Biti, the Sadc Election Observer Mission report was silent on the guidelines governing the conduct of democratic election.
“Its conclusion therefore that the Zimbabwe election satisfied Sadc guidelines defies simple logic,” Biti said.
“The report is self contradictory, inconsistent and incoherent. It raises issues that render the 31 July 2013 election unfair and not credible and at the same time concludes and ‘elevates’ the election to a credible one.”
Membe’s report stated “the provision of voters’ roll in time goes to the very heart of fairness in the election process. If the voters’ roll is not made available on time, the fairness of the election is brought into question.”
Biti said having made this point, the observer mission also noted that the voters’ roll was not made available on time and yet still makes the conclusion that the election was free, peaceful and credible.
“We have made it clear that the failure by Zec to provide us with a copy of the roll as required by the law was a well-calculated ploy to mask several irregularities that were deliberately orchestrated by the Registrar General, Nikuv and the military intelligence,” Biti said.
“For Sadc to conclude that an election in which other parties had no access to the voters’ roll is credible is baffling.”
Biti also rejected the conclusion that the poll was free.
Membe’s report states that “despite the shortcomings that have been annotated in the grand report, we said and we want to reiterate that elections that took place on 31st July, 2013 were free. Free in the sense that our observers noted that candidates were free to campaign, freely to associate, free to express their views and the voters were free to cast their vote.”
“This is erroneous,” Biti said. “While there were some cases of genuine illiteracy, the report fails to acknowledge the unprecedented number of assisted voters who were clearly intimidated into faking illiteracy so they could be assisted.”
He said the report was also conspicuously silent on the record number of voters that were turned away on polling day. Over 300 000 potential voters, according to Zec, were disenfranchised which resulted in either voters’ names not appearing at all on the voters’ roll or names having been transferred to different wards, constituencies or provinces.
Biti said the Sadc guidelines on elections have been lowered and could be a ticket for incumbent leaders across the continent to flout democratic yardsticks in order to hang on to power.
“At the moment it is Zimbabweans who are crying, next year it will be Malawians. This is not a tragedy for the MDC alone but for Africa as a whole,” said Biti.
He blasted the 15-member bloc for giving Zimbabwe the nod to assume the chairmanship of Sadc next year, saying such a move was retrogressive and an indictment on Africa as a whole. Daily News