The country’s leaders have set too short a timeline to carry out critical reforms before the much-anticipated balloting.
Leaders of the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, met recently to discuss the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe. At the end of the discussions, there was consensus that the country’s leaders have set too short a timeline to carry out critical reforms before the much-anticipated balloting, the first presidential race since a controversial 2008 vote marred by incidents of political violence.
Delaying the July 31 date set by President Mugabe could allow the time needed to give the elections a better chance of being credible, free and fair, the SADC leaders said. A rush to the polls in Zimbabwe would leave little time to overhaul restrictive media and security sector laws.
Accordingly, the SADC nations, which took action to mediate the political crisis that followed the 2008 voting and helped broker the country’s current unity government, requested that President Mugabe ask the courts to extend the July 31 deadline.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai says Mugabe’s actions violate the constitution and create a new political crisis at a time the nation should be drawing together. Meanwhile, reports indicate that elements within Zimbabwean political parties and government security agencies have begun intimidating voters with threats, detentions and harassment of groups and individuals working on human rights, electoral assistance and related issues.
The government of Zimbabwe now faces a tipping point. It must decide whether it will support a credible electoral process or go back to the violence, divisions and instability of 2008 that isolated the country. The United States is concerned that holding elections without providing adequate time for voter registration, inspection of voters rolls and other needed electoral and democratic reforms will put the credibility of the outcome at risk.
The Zimbabwean people deserve the full enactment of the reforms called for in the Global Political Agreement, the SADC election roadmap and the new constitution before the voting is held. An environment free of political intimidation and violence and the inclusion of a broad range of independent observers are essential for the balloting to be credible in the eyes of the international community and –- most importantly -- the Zimbabwean people.