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Europe

The Bitter Taste of Zimbabwe Elections

This weekend Zimbabwe goes to the polls to vote on a new president. According to the director of the EU committee on election monitoring, the current campaign situation violates international democratic standards.

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Zimbabwe elects its president on Saturday

In the weeks leading up to Zimbabwe’s presidential election, violent uprisings and angry protests captured the headlines and the attention of the international community.

Robert Mugabe, the reigning president for 22 years, became the focus of world criticism when he resorted to suppressive tactics aimed against the opposition party candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.

In an interview with DW-WORLD, the Swedish diplomat and director of the EU’s election monitoring committee Pierre Schori said the presidential campaign cannot be considered fair in the terms set by the international community.

"The campaign has been very violent and full of abuses from branches of the government against the opposition," Schori said.

Although the preconditions are not good, it is still feasible that the election itself will take place fairly normally, Schori pointed out. For this to happen, though, it is necessary that the international monitors remaining in the country be allowed to continue their work without disruption.

Schori himself was forced by the Mugabe government to leave the country back in mid-February.

Voter participation

It is extremely important that the people of Zimbabwe turn out in large numbers for the voting, Schori insisted.

There are six million eligible voters, many of whom are worried about the outcome of the election. The violence or even just the fear of violence must not prevent the people from going to the polls, Schori emphasized.

"We’re hoping for a massive turnout and a clear result," Schori said and added that a difference of at least five percent is necessary for both parties to accept the election outcome. "If this were the case, it would be extremely difficult for both sides not to accept the vote" especially as the international pressure on Zimbabwe would be so great, they could not do otherwise.

Catastrophic situation

According to the EU election monitor, the people of Zimbabwe are first and foremost interested in a president who can improve their poor living conditions.

The people are desperate for a change. The economic and social situation is catastrophic. A million people have died from AIDS, inflation has reached record heights, the income level has dropped to below what it was in colonial times, and there is a marked food shortage.

"The people do want to go out and vote, that we have noticed over and over again," Shori said.

Government suppression

In Zimbabwe what the people want is not reflected in their government. Mugabe is more concerned with maintaining his power. He has installed repressive laws targeted against the opposition. And he has limited the freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Compared to the parliamentary elections two years ago, this weekend’s election is characterized by suppression. "It is more obvious this time, that the violence, the abuses and the restrictions come from within the government," Schori said.

Mugabe, for whom much is at stake, has turned to these suppressive methods and fear tactics in order to bully the voters into re-electing him. But according to the international observers, Tsvangirai has a good chance of bringing about an end to Mugabe’s reign.

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