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Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 14:13 GMT
Zimbabwe rewrites observer rules
The monitoring issue arises amid a tight race
By BBC News Online's Martin Asser

The run-up to the 9-10 March presidential election in Zimbabwe has seen unprecedented interest in the electoral monitoring process, in particular the composition of those bodies tasked with ensuring the election will be free and fair.

The government has issued a number of invitations for observers from abroad, but has also specifically excluded certain nationalities - with UK citizens top of the list - as well as some of the international organisations which usually monitor elections.

Invited observers
Southern African Development Community
Commonwealth (excluding UK)
African Caribbean Pacific group
EU (withdrawn)
Organisation of African Unity
NAACP
New electoral legislation in Zimbabwe makes the unique linguistic and legal distinction between election observers and election monitors.

Only the monitors assigned by the official Electoral Supervisory Commission will be able to deliver a verdict on how democratic the elections have been.

Observers, on the other hand, will be given free access to observe the electoral process across the country, but their findings will not be taken into account by the ESC.

The vast majority of observers - about 12,000 - are to be "domestic", i.e. Zimbabwean nationals, who will be present in groups of three at each of the country's 4,000-plus polling stations.

'Screening'

However, these have still not been accredited and a spokesman for the Zimbabwe Election Support Network said he was very unhappy.

"The government is screening the list of names we submitted to remove those they don't like," Reginald Matchaba-Hove told BBC News Online.

Four monitors are meant to be at each station as well - some 22,000 in all.

Rising violence has preceded the elections
These will all be civil servants, drawn mainly from the Ministries of Education and Home Affairs, and - to the concern of some analysts - the Defence Ministry.

An agent for each candidate contesting the election is also allowed at every polling station.

There will also be dozens of foreign delegations providing hundreds of observers who - in co-ordination with their Zimbabwean counterparts - will be deployed at potential "hot spots" to try to bolster the security of voters.

The only difference in terms of access between these groups is that domestic and international observers will not be allowed to stay with the ballot boxes between the polling booth and the place where votes are counted.

Delegation withdrawn

The Zimbabwe Government has issued invitations to numerous countries - both individually and collectively under the auspices of continental and international bodies of which they are members.

Invitations to send observers have gone out to the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations group, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU, or African Union), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Commonwealth (excluding the United Kingdom).

Banned countries
UK
Denmark
Finland
Germany
Netherlands
Sweden
The problems with the European delegation - which officials in Harare said had been invited as a junior partner in a group with the ACP nations - and the Europeans' withdrawal, stemmed from the government's determination that British observers were not welcome.

That "disinvitation" was later extended to include Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland and the Netherlands, all for allegedly "favouring" President Robert Mugabe's main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

EU officials announced "targeted sanctions" and the withdrawal of all the observers, including those from countries such as France, Spain and Italy, who had already been registered.

Other omissions

From the US, only the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been invited to provide observers, while other organisations, such as the Carter Institute and the National Democratic Institute, which might usually expect to monitor elections, have not been asked.

The EU team had been hoping to work despite selective ban
The NDI has struggled to work in Zimbabwe since 2000, when it concluded that "the conditions for credible democratic elections do not exist". Denied accreditation, the body withdrew later that year.

The withdrawal of the EU team deprives the international observer body of a group which would have eventually totalled about 150 observers.

That will increase the pressure on the domestic observers, and the officials and civil society members of the large foreign delegations, such as the 100-strong South African team and the 50 representatives of SADC.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Election observer Mbulelo Musi
"The presence of observers would go a long way to identifying the problems Zimbabwe faces"

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15 Feb 02 | Africa
14 Feb 02 | Africa
13 Feb 02 | Africa
06 Feb 02 | Africa
28 Jan 02 | Country profiles
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