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Zimbabwe:Credible Polls Vital – Western Diplomats

ZIMBABWE will only receive significant funding from European countries after delivering a credible election and implementing reforms which entrench democracy and stimulate economic growth, foreign diplomats have told the Zimbabwe Independent.

This comes at a time when Australia's outgoing ambassador Suzanne McCourt told the Independent that Zimbabwe's new administration can only normalise its frosty relations with Canberra and the West if Harare holds a clean election this year, adhere to constitutionalism and restore the rule of law. In 2002, the European Union and Australia slapped Harare with restrictive measures, which government insists are economic sanctions, as a protest against an appalling human rights record and the breakdown of democracy in Zimbabwe.

During the same year, the Commonwealth bloc suspended Zimbabwe from the grouping after Harare held a disputed election which was marred by violence and other electoral irregularities. Zimbabwe then pulled out of the Commonwealth.

Two years earlier, Mugabe's government had rolled out violent and often chaotic land seizures mostly targeted at white farmers.

Following Mugabe's ouster after a military intervention in November, Mnangagwa's administration has pledged to hold free and fair elections.

Ambassador Philippe Van Damme, the head of the EU Delegation to Zimbabwe, said the bloc would consider scaling up financial assistance to Zimbabwe if Mnangagwa's government delivers on its pledge to stage a credible poll, as well as implement reforms that would set the country's fragile economy on a firm growth trajectory.

Van Damme said in the meantime the EU would continue its programmes and projects focussed on institutional capacity building and governance in various critical areas such as the judiciary, public finance management, trade facilitation and ease of doing export business. The bloc will also continue supporting work on constitutional alignment, migration policies, land governance and wildlife management.

"We have also invested significant amounts in accompanying measures of the electoral process, in support of Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission), but also of civil society in its educational and monitoring roles," Van Damme said.

"We hope that the renewed commitments of the government will allow an accelerated implementation of all those programmes.

This would create favourable conditions for increased absorption capacity for additional funding for a government legitimated by peaceful, inclusive, transparent and credible elections."

The EU, he emphasised, was committed to improving its relations with Harare and scaling up support after a credible election.

"As explained, we are fully concentrated on launching and implementing the existing programmes which will create the conditions for possible scaling up of bilateral, multilateral and private sector support at a later stage, once a government issued from credible elections is in place and engages further on a reform agenda which can put Zimbabwe on a sustainable growth path to the benefit of all Zimbabweans," Van Damme said.

He said Zimbabwe should also be committed to clearing its massive external debt as spelt out under the Lima Plan.

Australia's outgoing ambassador McCourt, who met Mnangagwa "several weeks ago", said the president's pledge to hold a credible election should be preceded by tangible and practical reforms to ensure that Zimbabwe is on course to restore the rule of law.

"I met President Mnangagwa several weeks ago and I was honoured to be invited to meet with him and we both agreed there was need to improve bilateral relations. The relations have been strained," she said.

"I think during my time here we have made it very clear that we want to see an environment that is reflective of Zimbabwe's constitution and also an environment that is open for business. But in relation to broader reforms we are very encouraged that the president said there will be free and fair elections in 2018."

Mnangagwa's sincerity to stage a clean poll next year, McCourt said, would be tested by Harare's resolve to embrace electoral reforms. She said Harare's commitment to hold a credible election could be cemented by inviting observers from the Commonwealth to "witness" the harmonised polls.

"In my view, there are simple things in that direction that need to be addressed and which can be done quickly and at a low cost, for example allowing the opposition parties to access state media and making sure there is good information and clarity surrounding the voters' roll," she said.

"I personally think it will be important for the government to invite a broad range of observers to witness this election. If the government is going to deliver free and fair elections, then open the door and let the people come in and see."

McCourt said Harare's ability to deliver a credible poll would be a perfect opportunity for restoring investor confidence.

l See full interview with McCourt in our next edition.

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