The SADC Observer Mission to the 2008 elections noted several anomalies that run against the grain of the principles of democratic elections within the southern African region but still endorsed the process leading to the 29 March elections as free and fair.
Addressing journalists in Harare on 30 March 2008, the head of the mission Jose Marcos Barrica noted the issues of equal access to the state media by political parties and candidates, access to information on the electoral process and the “irresponsible statements” by security chiefs, as some of the anomalies. He, however, said the issue of access to the state media had improved as the election date drew close.
Barrica said the statements by the security chiefs such as Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri and Commissioner of Prisons Paradzai Zimondi that they would not salute Morgan Tsvangirai leader of the opposition MDC in the event of him winning the presidential race, should have been publicly denounced.
In its preliminary report on the elections, the observer mission also noted that information on the electoral and voting process should also have been published in advance but still commended the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for doing everything to ensure that the elections would be held despite the logistical problems encountered.
It its pre-election position findings on the presidential, parliamentary, senatorial and local government elections held on 29 March 2008, MISA-Zimbabwe noted with grave concern that with polling only a few weeks away and almost four years after the adoption of the SADC Guidelines, there is little evidence on the Zimbabwean government’s willingness to relax its grip on the state media and allow opposition political parties or opposing voices to freely air their campaign messages and views on ZBC radio and television.
MISA-Zimbabwe noted that ZBC, Zimbabwe’s sole national state broadcaster continued to demonstrate its partisan tendencies where it concerns providing fair, balanced and equitable coverage of the ensuing election campaigns.
The live broadcast of the launch of the ruling Zanu PF’s election manifesto by ZBC on 29 March 2008 to the exclusion of a similar exercise by the opposition MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai the previous week at Sakubva Stadium in Mutare and that of Independent presidential candidate, Simba Makoni in Bulawayo is one such glaring omission or commission denying citizens access to alternative information which should have been noted by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in its mandate.
In terms of the Electoral Laws Act (As Amended 2008), ZEC should also have drawn up regulations for free, fair and balanced access to public broadcasting. As of 4 March 2008 and 25 days before polling ZEC was still to come up with such regulations for purposes of monitoring the media to ensure accurate and fair coverage of the elections to stem encouragement of violence, racial, ethnic and religious hatred.
Meanwhile, asked why the SADC election team had endorsed the elections as having been free and fair when ZEC was still to announce the results almost 20 hours after polling had closed at 7pm on 29 March 2008, Barrica said their mandate was only restricted to observing the pre-election period in terms of the SADC Guidelines.
Urging all political parties to respect the will of the people, he warned Zimbabweans against allowing for the prospect of civil war saying as an Angolan he had the experience of the negative impact of that scenario.
“I reiterate SADC’s commitment to continue supporting the people of Zimbabwe in their efforts to deepen democracy and realise the dignity of Zimbabweans. The voice of the people of Zimbabwe need to be heard and heard by the people of Zimbabwe,” said Barrica.
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