Parliamentary elections are to be held in Zimbabwe on March 31st. Few countries are more in need of a parliament that represents the people and can tackle urgent issues.
So far, President Robert Mugabe has kept his promise that violence will not be tolerated. This is a welcome change from the elections in 2000 and 2002, when opposition Movement for Democratic Change supporters were viciously attacked by ruling ZANU-PF activists. Unfortunately, there are serious problems with the election environment, which is being heavily manipulated in favor of the ZANU-PF ruling party.
International observers have been denied permission to monitor the election. They include the Southern African Development Community's Parliamentary Forum. In 2002, members of the Parliamentary Forum observed Zimbabwe's presidential election, and concluded it was neither free nor fair. Observers from other regional groups such as independent labor unions and churches have also been denied permission to observe Zimbabwe's parliamentary election.
Priscilla Misihairabwi is a spokeswoman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party. She says President Mugabe is "treating the election like a wedding party, where the bride and groom invite friends to come."
The Mugabe government has also stepped up its harassment of independent media. It’s bad enough that the Daily News and other independent newspapers are still closed; in February, the government closed down another paper, the Weekly Times.
When the Mugabe government keeps out independent observers and shuts down independent newspapers, it looks like it has something to hide. These actions only raise questions about whether the government is really serious about holding a free and fair election. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that the U.S. is urging the Mugabe government to change its ways:
"This is very high on our agenda because we believe that in Africa, just as in everyplace else, accountable, transparent government, democratic principles and democratic institutions contribute to stability and contribute to better governance."
Gross mismanagement and disastrous policies have wrecked Zimbabwe's economy and forced millions of Zimbabweans to flee the country. The people of Zimbabwe deserve to have a robust debate about economics and jobs and poverty. They deserve to have an honest parliamentary election.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.