The United States says it expects Zimbabwe to hold credible elections, leading to renewed relations between the two nations.
Some American legislators and representatives of several organizations recently visited the country on a fact-finding mission ahead of the forthcoming elections set for July 30th. Opposition parties are still expressing concern over various issues, including the provision of a clean voters’ roll and confining the military to the barracks.
Some U.S. government and nongovernment officials, who recently visited Zimbabwe, say they are optimistic about preparations for this year’s elections though they stress that a lot still needs to be done in order for the southern African nation to hold transparent polls.
Ambassador Matthew T. Harrington, who is the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, is among the officials that have just visited the country.
Speaking on the Zimbabwe Service’s call-in LiveTalk show, Ambassador Harrington said he left Zimbabwe after a four-day tour of duty with a mixed impression of the electoral process ahead of the polls.
“I left with a sense that it was really a mixed picture. I served in Zimbabwe from 2000 to 2003. Was an observer in the 2002 election and sow how problematic that election was. So, this time that was 15 years ago. I’m well aware of the challenges that Zimbabwean elections had in the past. This time I left with a mixed impression.
“There are some positive things that are happening. The president’s commitment to hold a free and fair election and to invite international groups, we commend him for that. There are observer groups that are already on the ground doing important work and I think that openness and invitation to international scrutiny is a very good thing.”
He said there are some other positive developments in the country ahead of the polls.
“… Also on the positive side of the ledger is that opposition parties seem to be able to campaign freely without the intimidation and harassment that we have seen in the past and that is a good thing.”
Ambassador Harrington noted though that some critical issues have not yet been addressed by the government, which has indicated that it wants to conduct elections that are different from what was done by the former Mugabe regime.
“I think there has been a lot of concern around the transparency of the voters’ roll. The election commission did make a commitment to release a voters’ roll in an analyzable form and that has been done I understand a bit later than what ZEC had committed to do but it had been done and that is a good thing.”
Ambassador Harrington noted that some civil society organizations and opposition parties are concerned about the transparency of the procurement, printing and securing of ballot papers.
He said he was briefed by several government officials, representatives of civil society groups and opposition parties, and businesspeople about the prevailing situation on the ground when he visited Zimbabwe.
“I think I got a pretty good picture of what is happening on the ground and our message, particularly in meetings with government officials, was to over communicate … There is clearly a deficit of public trust given the problematic elections in the past.”
Ambassador Harrington said Zimbabweans need to spearhead the holding of free, fair, credible and transparent elections.
“Ultimately the legitimacy of whatever government emerges from the election at the end of July that legitimacy will come from the Zimbabwean people and the confidence that they have in the process and not the international community and so everything that government can do to build that trust among the Zimbabwean public in the process they are to do.”
He said America wants to have a different relationship with the Zimbabwean government after imposing targeted sanctions on former president Robert Mugabe and his inner circle for alleged voter fraud and human rights abuses.
“We see Mugabe’s departure as an opportunity for Zimbabwe to set itself on a different path than it has been on in the past politically and economically and what we are looking for really is the opening of economic and political space for Zimbabweans to be able to able to express their opinions freely without harassment, for their views to be expressed in elections, for a business environment to be created that attracts international investment.”
His views were echoed by human rights lawyer, Dewa Mavhinga, who said there were still a lot of challenges ahead of the forthcoming general elections.
Mavhinga said the military’s involvement in political matters may also dent the image of the elections.
“We need to, even as we move forward or even post elections, to seriously interrogate the role and place of the military in Zimbabwe in relation to civilian and political affairs.”
Responding to Mavhinga’s remarks, Ambassador Harrington said the military’s involvement in the last general election in the alleged killing of opposition activists is still a cause for concern.”
“… Another concern is the role that military officials are playing in the key positions in government. Obviously our view is that the military in a thriving democracy should be completely subject to civilian rule and I think the one statement that is still in everybody’s mind and is creating some concern is the statement by the commander of the armed forces General Zvinavashe that he will only salute a president of Zimbabwe who had only fought in the liberation war.
“So, that has worried a lot of people and I suggested and I certainly suggested that in my meetings with government they could send a very important message by having the commander of the armed forces make a statement that they will not get involved in the political process and they will accept whatever the outcome as of the election.”
Zanu PF activist and former Member of Parliament, Believe Gaule, said Zimbabwean leaders are living to expectations as they have created a conducive environment for holding free, fair and credible elections”
“The observers are already on the ground and some of them, I’m happy to say this to you, they are happy about the situation that is prevailing at the moment. The situation that is prevailing in Zimbabwe is suitable for holding a free and fair election.”
President Mnangagwa, who became the second executive president after the Zimbabwe Defence Forces seized key state institutions last November resulting in Mugabe’s resignation, has cleared international organizations and individuals to observe and monitor the crucial elections.
Mugabe blocked most of them, including the European Union and several others, from observing the polls.