- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

From combined dispatches
HARARE, Zimbabwe Days before voters go to the polls, President Robert Mugabe unilaterally reinstated controversial election laws yesterday that had been struck down by the Supreme Court.
Opposition lawmakers had complained the laws disenfranchised many of their supporters and would make it easier to rig this weekend's presidential election.
The reinstated laws give state election officers sweeping powers and restrict vote monitoring, identity requirements for voters, campaigning and voter education.
Mr. Mugabe's decree also restores a ban on absentee voting by as many as half a million Zimbabweans living abroad.
The Supreme Court ruled Feb. 27 the election laws were improperly forced through Parliament in January after they were initially defeated.
In a notice in the official Government Gazette yesterday, Mr. Mugabe overruled the court order, saying the laws had been validly enacted and "shall be deemed to have been lawfully" adopted ahead of the presidential vote.
Mr. Mugabe's decree dealt a blow to the authority of the judiciary, already the target of threats and intimidation by the government and by ruling party militants.
Adrian de Bourbon, an attorney for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said the decree was illegal and unconstitutional.
"It is a total disgrace. One of the candidates has changed the rules. That is breaking the law and is clearly designed to help one candidate against the other," he said.
The opposition planned to file an urgent appeal with the Supreme Court today "but it's a moot point that in the time left we'll get anywhere," he said.
The High Court, the country's second-highest court, last week deferred new citizenship rules that had disqualified tens of thousands of voters, including longtime laborers from neighboring countries and many among the country's white minority.
The government also is scheduled to appeal that ruling today.
The court decisions had been seen as a blow to Mr. Mugabe, 78, who is fighting for his political survival after 22 years in office. He has led the African country since independence from Britain in 1980.
As his popularity has waned, Mr. Mugabe has imposed curbs on the judiciary, the media and opposition parties and many of his critics have been attacked or threatened.
The U.S. State Department released a human rights report on Zimbabwe on Monday that accused the government of extrajudicial killings, undermining the independence of the courts and waging a "systematic campaign of violence targeting supporters and potential supporters of the opposition."
Yesterday, Mr. Mugabe hit the hustings around Harare, promising to deliver a knockout blow to popular opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC in the March 9-10 election.
Electoral officials have not released key details such as the number of registered voters and polling stations, fueling fears that Mr. Mugabe is trying to fix the election.

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