|OAU Observers to Watch Zimbabwe
Election Process Carefully
by Hugh McCullum and Kondwane Chirambo
Harare, 22 June 2000
Some 28 election observers from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) have fanned out across all of Zimbabwes 10 provinces with a mandate not only to watch the electoral process, but also to observe the fifth parliamentary elections within the context of democratization and the consolidation of peace and development.
Former Liberian president Amos Sawyer who is leading the delegation which comes from all parts of Africa, said in an interview today that, having met with political party leaders and other stakeholders, the OAU group was aware of the violence and intimidation that has marred the run-up to voting on Saturday and Sunday.
We have heard these reports, we have also heard allegations of potential vote-rigging and we take them seriously but within the context of Zimbabwes history. We are especially gratified, too, that all political leaders have assured us that they wish to see the level of tension in the country reduced to an absolute minimum.
Sawyer, an African political leader, academic and staunch supporter of democracy, said that each election he had observed or participated in had its own unique circumstances and the context is important for observers to understand before making statements about the electoral outcome.
You cannot compare an election in Zimbabwe with one in Liberia or Ghana, let alone Europe or North America, the circumstances are all different. What we as African observers wish to ensure is the secrecy of the ballot, a level playing field, a transparent electoral process and a fair vote count.
He said that no electoral process is ever perfect but what was hoped for and urged upon Zimbabweans was tolerance. He urged Zimbabwean political parties to develop dialogue amongst themselves to avert any post-election conflict that could plunge the country into chaos.
Politicians have to understand that there is life after elections and for that reason they must strengthen institutions of governance rather than, as we Africans too often do, placing all the emphasis on the personalities of leaders.
The OAU mission, strengthened just today with the arrival of three observers from Angola, is working closely with all the international observer missions but especially with Observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum and Electoral Commissions Forum. They are the experts on this region and we work and consult closely together.
Sawyer said his team had heard allegations of intimidation from some politicians and the media but was gratified that no one had boycotted or withdrawn from the election, which he said, indicated a level of maturity as well as ensuring the legitimacy and integrity of the process.
After all, what is the point in having an election victory if the voting was not fair? he asked.
Sawyer said he was aware that some observer teams had been denied accreditation on their arrival and said he would be raising his concerns with the Zimbabwean electoral authorities. The OAU has had no difficulty in accreditation or in deploying its observers throughout the country. Even those who arrived late are accredited, he said. Today is the last day for observer accreditation.
The mission has issued one statement since its arrival this week in which Sawyer stressed that the democratization process in Zimbabwe is critical to the consolidation of peace and the pursuit of development in southern Africa and the entire continent.
The mission will issue a statement on its perceptions of the election after the vote-counting has concluded.
As a former head of state in Liberia which for years was wracked by civil war, and a noted student of democratic process, Sawyer reflected on the need for African states to find peaceful ways of transferring power from one party to another in a democratic fashion.
We must get out of this culture of violence. We spend too much time in conflict-resolution on this continent and too little time on our national development programmes while other areas of the world are getting on with advancing their technology and joining the rest of the worlds prosperity.
However, he also noted that each election, each political advancement was an incremental step along the road to entrenching democratic institutions.
We know of the emotive issues, such as the land question, in this country and as observers we must understand it. Our job is to help move the democratic process ahead along those incremental steps without telling Zimbabweans what they must do. (SARDC)
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