- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2000

An American observer group yesterday canceled plans to send a mission to Zimbabwe's fiercely contested parliamentary elections this weekend, saying the violence-riven nation's electoral process is the worst it had ever seen.

"The process is so flawed that it cannot adequately reflect the will of the people," said Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute.

Zimbabwe has refused accreditation to about 40 observers with the IRI and its sister organization, the National Democratic Institute, as well as 17 Kenyan and Nigerian members of an observer mission sponsored by the European Union.

"If Zimbabwe's electoral process were open and transparent, the government wouldn't fear election observers. However, those responsible for elections in Zimbabwe have failed their country," said Mr. Craner.

The United Nations pulled out of the election process two weeks ago after the Mugabe government said it should serve as just another observer mission rather than coordinate among poll watchers from various countries.

Political violence has disrupted campaigning for the election, which pits President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front against the 9-month-old opposition Movement for Democratic Change, led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai. The elections pose the biggest threat to Mr. Mugabe's ruling party since he led the nation to independence in 1980.

At least 31 persons, mostly opposition supporters, have died in political violence since February, when ruling party militants and independence war veterans began occupying more than 1,400 white-owned farms.

"Of the 90 elections IRI has observed in 40 countries since 1984, Zimbabwe's is the worst we have ever seen," Mr. Craner said. "Zimbabwe's pre-electoral administration and environment are so flawed that the election process as a whole will inevitably fall below even minimal international standards."

The National Democratic Institute, which last month accused Zimbabwe of creating an atmosphere of anxiety and fear, yesterday reiterated its concerns.

"Regrettably with just four days remaining before voting begins, the conditions for credible democratic elections still do not exist in Zimbabwe," NDI President Kenneth Wollack said in a statement.

"Irreparable damage has been done to the electoral process, particularly as a result of politically motivated violence."

State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher yesterday said Washington had received word that only foreign government employees will receive accreditation to be election monitors.

He said the U.S. government is pushing Zimbabwe to accredit "all foreign election observers, governmental and nongovernmental," before tomorrow's deadline.

The IRI said this was only the second time in its history that it had canceled an election observation delegation due to poor electoral conditions. The previous instance was in Guinea in 1993, said IRI spokesman Brian Kilgallen.

The IRI and its sister organization, the National Democratic Institute, are congressionally funded agencies loosely affiliated with the Republican and Democratic parties and charged with promoting democracy and free elections around the world.

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