International Body Warns of Zimbabwe Election Chaos

By Julius Mokaya | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - A US-based international election monitoring organization has warned that Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections, which will take place in five weeks, will not be free and fair because of massive fraud, chaos and widespread violence against the opposition.

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs warned that, unless President Robert Mugabe's government and ruling ZANU-PF party took urgent steps to reverse the situation, most Zimbabweans would be denied the opportunity to participate in an internationally credible election.

A report issued by the institute on Tuesday in the capital of Harare based its conclusion on a week-long-long survey of the election campaign. It said the ruling party and government agencies were intolerant of the opposition.

"It is a blow to the election plans and to the entire democratic process as 24 opposition supporters have been killed in the violence without the government taking any tangible steps to curb it," Alex Ekweme of NDI said by telephone from Harare.

"Our conclusion is that there are no conditions for credible democratic (election) polls in Zimbabwe unless the government and the ruling party recognize the opposition as partners in the democratic process," Ekweme added.

The situation could be reversed, according to Ekweme, if the government respected the rule of law by curbing violence and allowing the opposition access to national radio and television rather than monopolizing them.

Ekweme stressed that NDI's role was to assist Zimbabweans to participate in a credible election and not to condemn the government.

Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Alex Chitembwe, responded by vehemently defending the government and calling the NDI report biased and premature.

"As a government, we are working through our party structure and other agencies to eliminate the poll violence. In fact, various ministries have been told to encourage people to shun violence," he said.

Chitembwe blamed most of the violence on the opposition and warned that, should the ZANU-PF party lose unfairly to the opposition, it would not relinquish power.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed that the US was prepared to fund observers for the elections, scheduled for June 24-25th.

"Obviously, we believe very strongly in the importance of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe as they come up," Boucher told a press briefing.

Violence has occurred in Zimbabwe since Mugabe lost a referendum on amendments to the constitution that would have expanded his powers. The proposals also would allow the government to expropriate white-owned farms without paying compensation.

Following the referendum, government-backed squatters began to seize white farms.

At least four farmers died in related violence while a larger number of supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change also were killed.

Led by veterans of the 1970s independence war, the squatters occupied hundreds of farms.

The veterans have invaded white-owned farms that they say must be handed over to landless blacks, fighting what they see as a necessary battle against wrongs committed by their former colonial power, Great Britain.

Mugabe says Zimbabwe's 4,500 white farmers occupy about 70 per cent of the country's best farmland.

His handling of the crisis has drawn international condemnation and an arms embargo imposed by Britain.

"We have reached a stage where we have to worry about events in Zimbabwe. The government of President Robert Mugabe is pushing for absolute power through an aggressive land reform program," a senior United Nations official said.

"Until a few weeks ago, it looked like a small domestic matter, but events have dramatically altered. We need to look at Zimbabwe. We need effective diplomacy to prevent the country from becoming Africa's latest flashpoint," the official, who wished not to be identified, added.

Diplomats have expressed fears that instability and chaos in Zimbabwe would have serious consequences for a region already awash with refugees from wars in Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.