United States envoy Matthew Harrington has expressed mixed feelings over the progress made by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration towards creating a conducive environment for free, fair and credible elections on July 30.
Harrington, who is the acting deputy assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, and was an election observer in the disputed 2002 presidential poll, is one of the officials who recently visited Zimbabwe.
Speaking on the Zimbabwe Service’s call-in live talk show, he said in comparative terms to what is obtaining in the country 15 years later, he viewed Zimbabwe “with a sense that it was really a mixed picture”.
“I served in Zimbabwe from 2000 to 2003. Was an observer in the 2002 election and saw how problematic that election was, so I’m well aware of the challenges that Zimbabwean elections had in the past. This time, I left (Zimbabwe) with a mixed impression,” Harrington said.
The veteran diplomat said while there was some notable progress in terms of commitment to a free and fair election on Mnangagwa’s part, there were still concerns that need to be addressed before the poll.
He noted that some critical issues have not yet been addressed by the government, which indicates the political will to conduct elections that show a radical departure from what was done by the previous administration of former president Robert Mugabe.
“I think there has been a lot of concern around the transparency of the voters’ roll,” said Harrington.
On the positive developments, he singled out Mnangagwa’s pledge that he is willing to deliver an election whose outcome will not be disputed.
“There are some positive things that are happening. The president’s commitment to hold a free and fair election and to invite international groups, we commend him for that. There are observer groups that are already on the ground doing important work and I think that openness and invitation to international scrutiny is a very good thing,” said Harrington adding also that “on the positive side of the ledger is that opposition parties seem to be able to campaign freely without the intimidation and harassment that we have seen in the past and that is a good thing.”
Harrington noted that some civil society organisations and opposition parties are concerned about the transparency of the procurement, printing and securing of ballot papers.
America, he said, was convinced only a free and fair election in the country is the road to legitimacy for any government that is going to emerge.
He said he was briefed by several government officials, representatives of civil society groups and opposition parties, and businesspeople about the prevailing situation on the ground when he visited Zimbabwe.
“Ultimately the legitimacy of whatever government emerges from the election at the end of July that legitimacy will come from the Zimbabwean people and the confidence that they have in the process and not the international community and so everything that government can do to build that trust among the Zimbabwean public in the process they are to do.”
He said America wants to have a different relationship with the Zimbabwean government after imposing targeted sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle for alleged voter fraud and human rights abuses.
“We see Mugabe’s departure as an opportunity for Zimbabwe to set itself on a different path than it has been on in the past politically and economically and what we are looking for really is the opening of economic and political space for Zimbabweans to be able to express their opinions freely without harassment, for their views to be expressed in elections, for a business environment to be created that attracts international investment.”
Harrington’s assessment of the situation on the ground comes hard on the heels of American legislators and representatives of several organisations who also recently visited the country on a fact-finding mission.
The officials have also expressed optimism about preparations so far although they, like Harrington, stressed that a lot still needs to be done in order for transparent polls to take place.
United States Congressmen Senator Jeff Flake and Senator Chris Coons and several others are some of the officials who have been in the country ahead of the July 30 polls.