The parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe could have been an opportunity for all voices to be heard. The elections might have produced a parliament able to grapple with the huge economic and political problems that threaten to wreck the country. Unfortunately, this opportunity was lost.
Although election day itself was generally peaceful, the election process was not free and fair. Zimbabwe's independent press was muzzled. Freedom of assembly was constrained. Food was used by ruling ZANU-PF party candidates as a weapon to sway hungry voters. And millions of Zimbabweans who have been forced by their country's economic collapse to emigrate were disenfranchised. Moreover, discrepancies in the announced results raise concerns that the vote tabulations in many constituencies were rigged.
The Zimbabwe Election Commission’s failure to address publicly these discrepancies or to release the vote counts of any polling stations undermines the credibility of the announced results. The Movement for Democratic Change party says the Mugabe government engaged in widespread electoral fraud and intimidation. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the opposition has expressed very serious concerns about the results:
"We know from information...from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that as many as ten percent of the voters were turned away from polling stations when they tried to vote. And there are some indications. . . .that voters were disproportionately turned away in districts that might be favoring the opposition. This is just another sign that this whole process has been seriously tainted."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called "on the government of Zimbabwe to recognize the legitimacy of the opposition and abandon policies designed to repress, crush and otherwise stifle expressions of differences." Zimbabwe's leaders, says Ms. Rice, "have a responsibility to address the political and economic problems that have wrecked what only a few years ago was one of Africa's success stories."
With Zimbabwe facing famine, hyperinflation, and unemployment, it needs a parliament that reflects the will of the people. The Zimbabwean courts and election institutions should address the allegations of fraud. Zimbabweans deserve a parliament that has their trust.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.