Zimbabwe opposition rejects SADC’s ‘inaccurate’ report

imageHARARE: Zimbabwe’s main opposition party on Thursday criticised an African development organisation’s final report that partly endorsed the country’s disputed elections, calling it inaccurate and contradictory.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) early this week issued its final report on Zimbabwe’s July 31 elections, saying the vote was free and credible, but found it “very difficult” to declare it fair.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the report was not endorsed by all members of the 15-country bloc, and claimed it was unduly influenced by Tanzania’s foreign minister Bernard Membe, who led the 600-strong observer mission.

“We totally reject this report which we do not accept as the report of SADC,” Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary-general told reporters.

“We have consulted with other countries and we are fully aware that this was not a democratic report signed by everyone,” said Biti.

Presenting a summary of the regional bloc’s report in Harare on Monday, Membe said the elections were free and credible but it was “very difficult to say everything was fair.”

“We said and we want to reiterate that that the elections that took place on 31st July 2013 were free,” he said.

“On the question of credibility, a lot has been said to the negative. There were so many other elements that when put together elevated the election to a credible status. Therefore, this election was generally credible.”

Tanzania is a long-term ally of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, a friendship that stretches back to before the end of white rule in 1980.

Explaining how the elections could be simultaneously free and fair without being credible, Membe said “the elections… were free. Free in the sense that… candidates were free to campaign, free to associate, free to express their views and the voters were free to cast their vote”.

The MDC party of former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai will ask the SADC to get Membe to withdraw the Monday statement.

Biti said Zimbabwe’s vote, condemned by Western powers, fell far short of the SADC’s guidelines stipulating that elections should be “free, fair, peaceful and credible” to be acceptable.

“This election does not pass this test,” said Biti. “We are deeply concerned with signs and evidence of an international and regional body serving the interests of one party which is ZANU-PF.”

“If this is allowed to pass without condemnation and scrutiny by international law, you are setting a bad precedent,” he said, adding “The rape of democracy in Zimbabwe is the rape of democracy across the continent.”

Eighty-nine-year old President Robert Mugabe was declared winner of the polls that ended an often-acrimonious power-sharing government with Tsvangirai. Mugabe took 61 percent of the vote against Tsvangirai’s 34.

Tsvangirai dismissed the vote as “a massive fraud” citing a series of complaints including a suspiciously high number of voters who were turned away from polling stations in urban areas, which are considered opposition strongholds.

He also alleged that his party’s supporters in rural areas were intimidated by Mugabe backers into feigning illiteracy, meaning ballots could be cast on their behalf by police and election officers who supported the president.