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Opposition, activists denounce Zimbabwe poll law
The group marched to the embassy in protest against human rights abuses
Zimbabwe's main opposition has called on regional leaders to reject an
electoral law passed in parliament by Robert Mugabe's supporters ahead of
elections next year.
Mugabe's ruling Zanu(PF) used its majority in parliament to pass reforms intended to meet demands for fair elections by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). However, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said they were not enough. It also attacked the law seeking to restrict NGOs, accused by the government of being fronts for Western powers opposed to Mugabe.
A similar law has put severe curbs on the media and fuelled domestic and foreign charges of repression. "The so-called reforms are not going to help us to hold free and fair elections," Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, the MDC's foreign affairs secretary, said in a statement. The government made the reforms under pressure from the 14-nation SADC, but failed to meet SADC guidelines for a democratic vote, she said.
"You cannot be saying you are marching towards a democratic order while you pass laws like this, and the NGO bill which practically takes away the rights of civic groups," added Misihairabwi-Mushonga, an MDC member of parliament. "We are saying that it is now time for SADC to intervene ... to press the government very hard to implement real radical reforms."
A US state department spokesperson said the NGO law would stifle political debate and civil liberties by preventing international human rights groups from operating. "It is yet another sign that the government of Zimbabwe may not be serious about holding free and fair parliamentary elections in March 2005. And we call upon President Mugabe not to sign this bill," he said.
General elections next March will be a key test of how Zimbabwe, which has been shunned by the West amid a severe economic crisis, meets international demands for a fair vote. One key demand of the MDC is for an independent electoral commission set up with support of "all major stakeholders" and not subject to presidential approval.
It also wants the scrapping of four state bodies now involved in running elections, a clear law against poll violence and monitoring of any vote by foreign observers. While the new law provides for an independent electoral commission, critics say there are no guarantees of real autonomy.
The NGO bill will require human rights groups operating in Zimbabwe to register with a state-appointed body. Lovemore Madhuku, the chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly pressure group, said the new laws had no place in a democracy. "Our view remains that Zimbabwe's whole constitution needs to be overhauled to entrench basic rights, to guarantee civic and political activity," Madhuku said.
Foreign critics ranging from Western governments to African churches have said Zimbabwe's ruling party rigged the last parliamentary elections in 2000 and the 2002 presidential poll and accuse the government of widespread human rights abuses.
Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, accuses Zimbabwe's former colonial ruler of leading a Western campaign to oust him over his government's seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks. - Reuters