Polls: Obama turns heat on Mugabe


UNITED STATES President President Barack Obama yesterday urged the Zimbabwe government to stop the harassment of citizens and implement reforms ahead of landmark elections expected later this year.

with Additional reporting by agencies

Obama was speaking in the South African capital, Pretoria, after talks with President Jacob Zuma, where Zimbabwe featured prominently.

The comments came at a time when President Robert Mugabe is under pressure from regional leaders to implement media, security and electoral reforms before the harmonised elections he wants held by July 31.

“Harassment of citizens and groups needs to stop and reform needs to move forward, so people can cast their votes in elections that are fair and free and credible,” Obama said.

Sadc early this month asked Mugabe to approach the Constitutional Court to seek permission to delay elections by two weeks after Zuma told regional leaders there were high chances that the outcome of the polls would be disputed because of the failure to implement the reforms.

Obama’s comments would also come as a rude awakening to Zanu PF as the party’s strategists have in the past claimed that the US was warming up to Mugabe.

According to Zanu PF, the supposed change in US policy was influenced by a realisation that the 89-year-old would win the fortcoming polls.

Critics accuse Mugabe of attempting to push through a vote before reforms that would clean up the voters’ roll, free the media and limit the military’s political role.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai – who will face Mugabe in the polls alongside Welshman Ncube (MDC), Dumiso Dabengwa (Zapu) and Kisinoti Mukwazhe (Zimbabwe Development Party) – has threatened to boycott any unilaterally declared election date.

Tsvangirai won the most ballots in the first round of the 2008 elections, but pulled out of the second round amid violence against his supporters.

Zuma, who has been pushing for a clear election roadmap in Zimbabwe in his position as the Sadc mediator in talks between Zanu PF and the MDC formations in the inclusive government, used the briefing with Obama to urge the US to reconsider its embargo against Harare.

“We are encouraged by the relaxation of sanctions on Zimbabwe by the US government and urge further steps in this regard as it will strengthen the economy of Zimbabwe,” he said.

The US has maintained an asset freeze and travel embargo against several Zanu PF officials including Mugabe’s family since 2002 after it accused the veteran ruler of human violations and electoral fraud. Obama’s administration has insisted on wide-ranging reforms in Zimbabwe before it could consider lifting the sanctions.
A free and fair election is also one of the preconditions for a policy review.