The government should withdraw the restrictive press laws in their entirety and allow domestic and international observers to monitor elections, says TI
President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party should withdraw in their entirety the restrictive press laws currently before the Zimbabwean Parliament, says Transparency International, the world's leading non-governmental organisation engaged in the fight against corruption. Such a step is essential if the forthcoming presidential election, scheduled for 9-10 March, is to be free and fair.
President Mugabe announced at last week's summit of heads of government of the South African Development Community in Malawi that some foreign journalists and observers will be allowed into Zimbabwe to cover the March election. "The government must go much further to meet the justified concerns raised both at home and abroad," said John Githongo, a member of the international board of Transparency International, and Executive Director of Transparency International Kenya. Under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, currently before Zimbabwe's parliament, all foreign journalists, but also independent Zimbabwean media and Zimbabwean journalists working for independent papers are obliged to secure the approval of the Ministry of Information. According to Githongo, who is a leading journalist in Kenya, "such legislation can only set back the chances of an election result that reflects the true and accurate verdict of the Zimbabwean people. Let Zimbabweans decide in a free and fair election, with a free and open media."
According to Githongo, "the current legislative agenda threatens the freedom of opposition parties to campaign. Without the right to assembly and access to the media, a fair and free election cannot be guaranteed." He continued: "Another prerequisite of a fair electoral process is the independent monitoring of the poll - by international but also by domestic observers."
The new Public Order and Security Bill, which was enacted earlier this month, makes it an offence to "undermine the authority of the president" or "engender hostility" towards him. "Such a law tramples on the rights of free speech that are vital to the free and fair conduct of the election," said Githongo. International protests were sparked again this weekend when police broke up an opposition party rally in the western city of Bulawayo on 20 January.
The parliamentary elections of June 2000 were marked by the worst violence in the history of polling in Zimbabwe. According to TI Zimbabwe, writing in the Global Corruption Report 2001 (www.globalcorruptionreport.org), the government has since embarked on "a massive vote-buying exercise. Huge amounts of money are given to mostly unemployed youths and rural folk to persuade them to support [Mugabe's ruling party] Zanu-PF."The words of TI Zimbabwe bear testament to the oppressive climate in the country: "How does one address corruption issues in such a situation? The call to fight corruption in this context amounts to a call for the removal of the ruling party from government, a dangerous position to be in, and a situation that places activists in the same camp as opposition politicians. However, any other method is akin to pruning a tree whose roots are totally rotten."
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