British PM Pushing for Observers for Zimbabwe Election
By Tendai Maphosa
04 June 2008
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he is working with African leaders to get international observers into Zimbabwe to ensure that the upcoming presidential runoff election there is free and fair. Tendai Maphosa has more in this report from London.
Gordon Brown (file photo)
Prime Minister Brown told parliament Wednesday that the outcome of the presidential runoff will only be acceptable if the government of President Robert Mugabe allows international observers into the country.
"There is a need for hundreds of observers because of the geography of the country and because of threats of intimidation and I am working with the president of the African Union and the president of SADC and other leaders around the world to make sure that the offer of international observers is there and is taken up," he said.
The runoff vote was set for June 27 after the initial presidential balloting was inconclusive and marred by allegations of fraud and vote rigging.
The Zimbabwean government has in the past insisted it will only allow observers from friendly countries. During the general elections in March no observers from western countries were allowed in. That poll resulted in Mr. Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party losing control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) beat Mr. Mugabe in the presidential poll, but not by the margin required to avoid a runoff.
Wednesday's debate in the British parliament comes a day after Mr. Mugabe again blamed former colonial power Britain for much of Zimbabwe's economic plight. He accused London of persuading other western countries to punish Zimbabwe for its controversial land reform program.
In a speech at the summit of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Mr. Mugabe accused western countries of imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe for the sometimes-violent exercise launched in 2000. The program saw white farmers lose their farms to make way for landless blacks. But the president's critics say the farms were handed out to his close supporters who have failed to maintain production. As a result, four million Zimbabweans now depend on food aid.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
During Wednesday's parliamentary debate in London, leader of the opposition Liberal Democratic party Nick Clegg brought up the issue of stripping Mr. Mugabe of the honorary knighthood bestowed on him by the British government in 1994. Prime Minister Brown responded, saying it is not a priority.
"Mr. Speaker I am less interested in the symbols than the substance and we have got to get elections in Zimbabwe that are seen to be free and fair," he added. "Zimbabweans deserve to have a government that is fully democratically elected put in place."
However a Foreign Office spokesman, speaking on condition anonymity, told VOA that there have been calls for the withdrawal of the knighthood and, he said, the matter is under review. Last year Edinburgh University became the first institution to strip Mr. Mugabe of an honorary degree bestowed on him in 1984.