The Guardian explains what free elections are...
"Groundbreaking elections in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Palestine and Iraq, extolled in President Bush's "dawn of freedom" inaugural address, have encouraged western hopes that democratic values are gaining universal acceptance. But this winning streak, if that is what it is, will come to a shuddering halt next month in Zimbabwe." (1)
"All the indications so far are that the elections will be stolen"
- banned unlicensed meetings of more than 10 people
- restricted independent election monitoring and human rights groups
- Zimbabweans who have left the country for political or economic reasons cannot vote
- Intimidation and violence by youth militias is continuing unchecked
and what's wrong with this?
"Especially troubling for Mr Mugabe's neighbours is his failure to adopt electoral standards agreed last August with his peers in the 13-country Southern African Development Community."
what sort of standards does this suggest?
"The principles for the conduct of democratic elections include the full political participation of all citizens; freedom of association; political tolerance; equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media; impartial electoral institutions and an independent judiciary; voter education; acceptance and respect of the election results proclaimed by the national electoral authorities, and legal challenges of the election results. The responsibilities of member states holding elections include that they take measures to ensure the “scrupulous implementation” of these democratic election principles; establish impartial, all-inclusive, competent and accountable national electoral bodies staffed by qualified personnel; safeguard human and civil liberties of all citizens, including the freedom of movement, assembly, association, expression, campaigning and
access to the media on the part of all stakeholders, during electoral processes; and provide adequate resources for carrying out democratic elections. The SADC electoral charter also identifies the responsibilities of member states to SEOMs, including that member states must accredit the members of the SEOM on a non-discriminatory basis. There are also provisions for the establishment of an SEOM, for a code of conduct for electoral observers, and for the observation of elections. Should a member state invite an SEOM to observe its election, the Chairperson of SADC’s Politics, Defense and Security Organ must constitute the observer team." (2)
So why haven't we held the same standards for legitimacy in Iraqi elections?
Opposition party leader Morgan Tsvangirai of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) made his position clear about the consequences of taking part in elections under these conditions:
"Speaking to the Guardian last month in Johannesburg, Mr Tsvangirai said the MDC was facing a dilemma. "The question is: are credible elections possible under the current conditions? The answer is no. We cannot hold public meetings of more than three people without police permission. There are 50,000 youth militia trained to inflict violence on the opposition.
"If we take part under current conditions, we give legitimacy to a discredited system. If we don't run then we become irrelevant."" (3)
Elections in 2000 were hindered (understatement) by violence and intimidation. And many countries questioned (understatement) the result. Prompting Condoleezza Rice to name the country an "outpost of tyranny" in her senate confirmation hearing last month.As neighbouring countries and those further afield call (rightly) for elections to meet the standards required one may wonder why these standards are not imposed elsewhere.
"They hope to establish whether conditions laid down by the Southern African Development Community for a free and fair election have been met.
The SADC benchmarks, set out last year in Mauritius, state that political tolerance, freedom of association and full participation of all citizens are prerequisites." (4)