The Southern African Development Community (SADC) delegation of lawyers is expected today to asses Zimbabwe´s compliance with the Mauritius Protocol on the staging of elections in a democracy as the regional grouping races against time to ensure Harare´s March parliamentary elections are free and fair. (28-JAN-05)

This article first appeared in yesterday´s edition of the Zimbabwean daily the Financial Gazette. It has been edited for republication here.

The visit by the delegation of SADC lawyers comes amid a chorus of complaints by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF were in serious violation of most of the guidelines and principles of the Mauritius Protocol signed by member states last August. The MDC cites this week´s arrest of two of its legislators Thokozani Khupe (Makokoba) and Nelson Chamisa (Kuwadzana), the barring of a number of its political meetings and refusal by the public media to accept opposition advertisements, as some of the latest violations of the Mauritius Protocol.

Election observers a necessity
Harare is a signatory of the Mauritius Protocol which, among other things, demands that all registered political parties should be allowed to campaign freely; have unlimited access to the public media; freedom of association and that all citizens should be allowed to exercise their right to vote. The principles and guidelines also talk of the need for an independent electoral commission to run the elections and the deployment of election observers two weeks before the polls.

Chairman of Electoral Commission´s impartiality in doubt
But the MDC said this week it doubted the impartiality of the newly-appointed chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Justice Charles Chiweshe who, in the past, has handled court cases involving MDC officials and activists. Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, the MDC shadow minister for foreign affairs, said although her party had not been formally informed, they had been aware for the past few months that an SADC delegation was due in Harare before the polls. “We are just preparing our submissions so that we are ready when they eventually come. We are aware that they are coming but we don?t know if they are already in the country or not,” said Misihairabwi-Mushonga.

International pressure mounts for elections to be free and fair this time
An official at the SADC headquarters told The Financial Gazette that the team, comprising lawyers, would be in Harare up to the weekend. South African deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Aziz Pahad, said a team of lawyers from SADC were due in Harare today or tomorrow to assess Zimbabwe´s compliance with regional election guidelines and principles ahead of the parliamentary polls delegation. They would also examine Zimbabwe´s electoral laws and institutions. Pahad told a Jo´burg-based Sunday weekly that the SADC delegation of lawyers upon arrival in Harare would examine Zimbabwe electoral laws and institutions and then compare them with the principles and guidelines adopted by the heads of states of the regional grouping in Mauritius last August. The delegations would also consult state, political and civic organisations on further initiatives needed to ensure free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.