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Is Venezuela's Hugo Chavez being inspired by Mugabe's antics?

By Aleksander Boyd

London 06 July 2004 - A week ago, while on the plane to Germany, I read an article in the Daily Telegraph on Mugabe's banning of international observers for the coming elections. David Blair, pointed out "Mr Mugabe's real aim is to give South Africa, his crucial ally, enough grounds to declare the election free and fair." The similarities between Mugabe and Chavez are such that I will reproduce here the full article by Blair and views of Miguel Octavio regarding the current controversy over the international observers. Compare and contrast...

Mugabe bans western election observers
By David Blair

Zimbabwe's opposition accused President Robert Mugabe of trying to "fool" the world yesterday when he banned election observers from any western country from covering parliamentary polls due next year. Coming amid food shortages and economic collapse, the contest represents a crucial hurdle for Mr Mugabe. He has already begun a campaign to guarantee victory and hand his African allies enough reason to give the election a clean bill of health. Mr Mugabe, 80, told a summit of developing countries in Mozambique that only observers from "our friends in the Third World" would be allowed to monitor the polls. "We will not allow the erstwhile imperialists to judge our elections," he said. His regime agreed to adopt some international standards designed to ensure a fair contest. Transparent ballot boxes will be used as a safeguard against "stuffing". Counting will happen at polling stations instead of a single location and voting will be on a single day rather than over a weekend.

But Zimbabwe's opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), believes these reforms are wholly inadequate. It suspects that Mr Mugabe's real aim is to give South Africa, his crucial ally, enough grounds to declare the election free and fair. "They are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of southern African countries," said Tendai Biti, the MDC's economic affairs secretary. "No one should be excited by measures that are meant to fool the international community. You cannot achieve a free and fair election on the basis of these measures." Militias from Mr Mugabe's Zanu PF party have for four years conducted a reign of terror against his opponents. Draconian laws ban criticism of the president and force the opposition to seek police permission for any gathering. Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, is awaiting the verdict of his trial on charges of treason, which carries the death penalty. All radio and television channels are conduits for official propaganda and the Daily News, the only independent daily, was shut down last year. The BBC and most foreign news organisations are banned from Zimbabwe.

Mr Biti said this amounted to a "state of emergency by the back door" and rendered normal political campaigning impossible. "The government has done nothing to address basic law and order issues such as the violence we have seen all over the country." The MDC is unable to function effectively and the party is likely to lose most of its 52 seats in parliament when the election is held next March. It recently lost two by-elections in former strongholds. Election observers from South Africa gave a favourable verdict on Mr Mugabe's victory in the presidential polls of 2002. The president hopes they will do the same for the coming parliamentary contest - while any observers likely to disagree will be banned.

The absurd controversy over the international observers
By Miguel Octavio

We have witnessed in the last two weeks an absurd discussion on the part of the Chavistas as to the role of the international observers. International observers are invited to electoral processes as a way of guaranteeing the transparency and cleanliness of the process, nothing else, and nothing more. Observers are invited to protect both sides, to warn of tricks and guarantee the results are valid.

Thus, it certainly sounds fishy and sends the wrong signal to the world to limit, restrict and regulate what they can or not do while they are here. In the regulations proposed by the pro-Chavez CNE, observers will not be allowed to make any public comments! How absurd can you get? Imagine there is massive cheating by either side and the CNE is saying the observers will have to remain silent, write their reports and then go home? Simply absurd.

The level of absurdity is reaching such a point that in the latest proposal; even the number of days spent in Venezuela is being regulated. To me it is quite clear and it should worry those that are pro-Chavez that this is not a concern: The presence of international observers guarantees that both sides will respect the outcome no matter who wins! If you had one observer per polling station, it would be great! But the argument is that no election in the world has had more than 50 international observers (false: Peru and Nicaragua had many times more than that), thus why should the Venezuelan referendum have more?

The answer is clear; we want the outcome to be respected, clear, and transparent, without any possible or reasonable doubt. We want observers to go around the country freely (not only to the six states specified by the CNE), to speak out freely, to be allowed to visit, probe. As a loyal member of the opposition, I donít want Chavez to come out and say, like he did after the signatures, that there had been a massive fraud (whatever happened to that?). I want the evidence to be overwhelming that he won or lost, fair and square, for everyone to see and accept. And the only way for that is to have thousands, if possible, observers roaming, probing criticizing and warning. The rest is revolutionary BS by those that, in my opinion, are planning to cheat or interfere with the recall referendum process.



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