23 June 2008

Zimbabwe: Put Off Polls - Levy

Lusaka — PRESIDENT Mwanawasa yesterday called for the postponement of Zimbabwean presidential run-off elections slated for this Friday because of the volatile situation during campaigns.

Speaking in his capacity as Southern African Development Community (SADC) chairman, Dr Mwanawasa told a Press conference at State House that the situation in Zimbabwe did not meet the SADC principles and guidelines and other African Union (AU) regulations on free and fair elections .

"It is, therefore, my considered view that the run-off election in Zimbabwe must be postponed to a later date.

"I urge the responsible authorities in Zimbabwe to implement this postponement to allow for the establishment of conditions that are suitable for holding of genuinely free and fair elections in accordance with Zimbabwean law, the SADC principles and the charter and conventions of the African Union," he said.

Dr Mwanawasa said the postponement of the run-off election had become imperative with the withdrawal of opposition - Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, leaving President Robert Mugabe as the only candidate.

He noted that only last week, SADC ministers responsible for peace and security had said they doubted the presidential run-off election would be free and fair given the situation on the ground.

"In view of the foregoing, I would be failing in my duties as chairman of SADC if I did not offer timely advice to our member state," he said

He said that leaders should not, therefore, feel embarrassed to support the postponement because it was in the interest of Zimbabwe and its people.

Dr Mwanawasa said, as a member of SADC, Zimbabwe was a signatory to the regional body principles and guidelines governing democratic elections which it had, however, not adhered to.

"The conduct of free and fair elections is not simply judged on election day but from all activities and events prior to the day, on the day itself and thereafter.

"Those of you that may have observed the events in Zimbabwe during the run-off election 'campaigns' will agree with me that the current political environment in Zimbabwe falls far short of the SADC principles that I have just outlined," he said.

He said free campaigns had not been allowed in that country as opposition rallies were being disrupted while Mr Tsvangirai had been arrested and detained, without justifiable cause, five times within a space of 10 days.

Dr Mwanawasa further noted that the MDC secretary general, Tendai Biti was currently in prison facing treason charges while generally there had been numerous incidences of political violence from both sides resulting in deaths of people.

"The opposition party had been denied equal access to the state media, hence denying them the opportunity to communicate their campaign messages effectively," he said.

Dr Mwanawasa said that President Mugabe's declaration that only God could remove him from office had created fear among the Zimbabwean voters.

Further, the Zimbabwean government had banned non-governmental organisations and other civil society organisations from carrying out their normal humanitarian functions on grounds that they were supporting MDC

He quoted former United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan's statement published in the Financial Times edition of June 18, 2008 which stated that the situation in Zimbabwe was having tragic consequences both inside the country and in southern Africa.

Dr Mwanawasa said his statement was an appeal to all the relevant parties in Zimbabwe to ensure that they took measures which would prevent the situation in that country from escalating into deeper crisis.

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