The following is an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government:
Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held on March 31st in Zimbabwe. But the fairness of the vote is in serious question. The previous parliamentary elections, held in 2000, and the presidential election of 2002 were marred by violence, electoral irregularities, and government intimidation. There are already signs that this pattern may be repeated in the election next month.
In January, in the city of Bulawayo, more than sixty members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change were detained by police. Those taken into custody included Thozani Khupe, a member of Zimbabwe's parliament. They were charged with holding a public meeting without permission.
Arresting opposition party members is not the only problem. New election laws may reduce access to polling areas by independent observers. Moreover, the government of President Robert Mugabe has said it intends to restrict access by international observers. Reg Matchava-Hove is a human rights activist and chairman of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network:
"Even the question of administering the elections through an independent electoral commission becomes a very dim reality if the elections are held in March."
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says that the U.S. is pressing for an honest electoral process in Zimbabwe:
"We've stressed the importance of that and we encouraged the government itself to hold open, free, and fair elections."
It is not too late for the Mugabe government to allow independent newspapers to reopen and political parties to hold rallies without interference; to invite international observers to monitor the election; and to follow through on statements that violence by any political party will not be tolerated.
Mismanagement and inflation have wrecked Zimbabwe's economy and forced millions of Zimbabweans to flee the country. The people of Zimbabwe deserve to have an honest and open political debate about their future.