Zimbabwe's opposition to boycott 'unfair' elections

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe's main opposition party ruled out taking part in elections yesterday unless President Robert Mugabe's regime complies with tough new rules established by regional leaders to ensure free and fair polls.

Zimbabwe's main opposition party ruled out taking part in elections yesterday unless President Robert Mugabe's regime complies with tough new rules established by regional leaders to ensure free and fair polls.

The decision by the Movement for Democratic Change comes at a time of heightened repression by Mr Mugabe's government, which has introduced legislation banning all foreign charities working in the human rights field and preventing local human rights groups receiving foreign funds.

Analysts described the MDC's decision as the most important step the party has taken since it was formed in 1999. They said the MDC's participation in past elections, which have been marred by violence and ballot-rigging, had served no purpose other than to legitimise his brutal regime.

Even after Mr Mugabe closed polling stations and ordered police and troops to teargas people queueing to vote in the MDC's urban strongholds in the 2002 presidential elections, the party participated in subsequent by-elections and local government polls. But the use of violent youth militias and other state resources to harass voters worked against the MDC, which has lost five by-elections to the ruling Zanu-PF.

Regional leaders in the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting in Mauritius last week agreed on a new protocol on ensuring free and fair elections. The South African President Thabo Mbeki said any member violating the protocol would be expelled from the SADC - although many doubt his sincerity. Mr Mugabe accepted the protocol, albeit grudgingly. For instance the protocol requires member countries to accept election monitors and establish independent commissions to oversee the elections. Mr Mugabe has agreed to establish an "independent" commission subject to one condition - that he will appoint all its members. He has also vowed never to admit European monitors.

"Until there are tangible signs that the Zimbabwe government is prepared to enforce SADC protocols on elections, the MDC national executive has decided to suspend participation in all elections in all forms in Zimbabwe," an MDC spokesman, Paul Nyathi, said.

Two by-elections are planned next month and parliamentary elections are due in March next year. Mr Mugabe has called them "the anti-Blair elections".

Mr Nyathi said the MDC - whose leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is awaiting the verdict of his trial on charges of treason, which carries the death penalty - would not participate in any elections "until the political space has been opened up and a legal, institutional and administrative framework for elections has been established that harnesses acceptable levels of transparency and fairness in the electoral process".

Mr Mugabe introduced draconian security laws which require the opposition to seek police permission before holding rallies. Dozens of opposition rallies have been banned over the past few months using these laws."A very brilliant move," was how the University of Zimbabwe political science professor John Makumbe described the MDC's decision to quit all polls. Mr Mugabe must now sit with the opposition to agree on acceptable conditions for free and fair elections and his regional peers must hold him accountable if he refuses, Professor Makumbe said.

The MDC said it had also withdrawn from Harare City Council, where it controls all but one of its 40-plus seats. The party has failed to run the city because Mr Mugabe fired its elected executive mayor Elias Mudzuri more than a year ago. Mr Mugabe has also been dismissing elected councillors who disagree with his policies.

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