7 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Sham Poll Looms ...as President Mugabe Skirts Crucial Reforms

THERE are fears the country could be heading for another sham election next year after President Robert Mugabe last week outlined a legislative agenda for the new session of Parliament lacking any of the reforms seen leading to free and fair elections.

In his address at the opening of Zimbabwe's Fifth session of the Seventh Parliament last week, President Mugabe was mum on media, electoral and security reforms that Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai and Welshman Ncube, the leader of the other faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), say are necessary for the staging of polls whose outcome would be universally accepted.

Instead of outlining a legislative agenda that would usher in free and fair polls, President Mugabe singled out the Constituency Development Fund Bill, the Attorney-General Amendment Bill, the Zimbabwe Investment Authority Bill, the Mine and Mineral Amendment Bill, the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill, the State Enterprise and Parastatal Management Bill, the Diamond Bill and the Tripartite Negotiating Forum Bill, which he wants passed in Parliament before the next polls. These Bills will however, not contribute to a free and fair poll.

There had been expectations President Mugabe would set the tone for fresh polls by outlining a legislative agenda that could have possibly seen the repeal or amendment of perceived draconian laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the overhaul of the office of the Registrar General's Office as well as the cleaning-up of the shambolic voters' roll, which critics claim still includes thousands of babies and dead people.

It is the role of the security sector, which seems to heighten fears of yet another bloody poll likely to dent the outcome of the elections as well as the image of the country.

The MDC formations accuse the military and other State security agents of being complicit in the political violence that accompanied the 2008 polls, particularly in the run-up to the presidential run-off boycotted by PM Tsvangirai.

The MDC-T leader refused to contest the run-off citing the killing of about 200 of his party's supporters in suspected State-sponsored violence.

Because of the controversial role played by the State security agents in the 2008 polls, the MDC formations have since the consummation of the coalition government been calling for the re-alignment of the security sector ahead of the polls.

ZANU-PF has flatly refused to entertain any talk of reforming the sector, claiming it was tantamount to effecting a regime change.

Critics are however, adamant the proposed legislative agenda is bereft of any measures to usher in free and fair elections whose outcome would not be disputed.

"The legislative agenda for the Fifth Session of Parliament, as presented by the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe had nothing much to offer by way of a legislative agenda than can facilitate the spirit of free and fair elections in the coming year," said Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, in a report released last Friday.

Critics also accuse the police of using POSA and other pieces of legislation to frustrate the MDCs from wresting power from ZANU-PF.

Media activists have heightened their calls for the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, a piece of legislation they say criminalises the practice of journalism as a profession. There are also concerns over the increasing use of defamation laws to cow the media ahead of polls.

While there has been piece-meal opening of the airwaves with the licensing of Star FM and ZiFM, media watchdogs had expected Parliament to fast-track the licensing of community radio and television stations before the next elections. There is also need to repeal the Broadcasting Services Act, which which has perpetuated the monopoly of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.

The police also stand accused of selectively applying the law by banning MDC gatherings as well as arresting perceived enemies of ZANU-PF.

In the court of public opinion, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are already being persecuted ahead of the plebiscite.

Critics cite the arrest of Counselling Services Unit (CSU) employees on Monday as part of the perceived crackdown on NGOs by the police.

About 20 police officers raided CSU offices around lunch time on Monday, armed with a search warrant, ostensibly to recover "offensive and subversive material" from the organisation's offices in Harare.

The police arrested five CSU employees whom they took into custody at Harare Central Police Station.

According to the search warrant, a copy of which was obtained by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the police officers claimed they were convinced CSU was in possession of material that "defaces any house, building, wall, fence, lamp post, gate, elevator without the consent of the owner or occupier thereof," in contravention of Section 46 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

The police officers confiscated a computer and some documents from CSU offices. The raid followed that of the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe whose offices were twice raided in August after the police claimed the organisation and its leaders were in "possession of pamphlets and flyers with information that promotes homosexuality for distribution". --Staff Reporter.

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