Church wants climate for fair poll

HARARE - Zimbabwean church leaders on Friday urged the creation of conditions for a free and fair general election and avert the 2008 poll violence.

A delegation of over 200 church leaders met Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in a closed meeting at the Rainbow Towers Hotel in Harare and conveyed the church’s message that governing parties should achieve the goal of campaigning in peace and staging violence-free polls.

Church leaders expressed concerns over the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe.

They appealed to the PM to ensure there will be free and fair elections, referring to escalating political violence linked to upcoming general elections.

Using diplomatic terms, the church said it was “greatly concerned”, while the MDC contemplated pulling out of the GNU in protest at the violence in which several of its supporters have been targeted.

The Daily News learnt that church leaders conveyed a strong statement condemning lawlessness and political intimidation.

“The major concern by the church is the issue of violence,” Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka said.

“They said elections were an unsafe era for the church. They appealed to government to make a peaceful environment.”

The MDC, citing spiralling violence and what it called Mugabe’s “tyranny”, indicated this week, it was envisaging a campaign against the growing “anarchy” in the country.

It was not immediately clear if the 200 church leaders would meet Mugabe, who has been preaching peace all along.

The clerics join the rising chorus of condemnation of political violence and intimidation blamed mostly on Zanu PF which is facing its sternest electoral challenge since independence from the 13-year-old MDC.

The PM, flanked by MDC organising secretary Nelson Chamisa, explained to the church leaders how far the inclusive government has gone in terms of stopping the economic haemorrhage, unpacked the draft constitution’s negatives and positives including term limits for the president and service chiefs; devolution, increased role for women, expended Bill of Rights and respect for the family.

“The church admitted the draft is a major improvement from the current constitutional status quo,” Tamborinyoka said.

Church leaders expressed concern about the sabre-rattling from security commanders that they will not allow anyone without liberation war credentials from taking power.

The PM told the church leaders there was no role for security forces in an election except to maintain peace.

“He said it was disturbing to note that machinery of violence had still not been dismantled on the ground, with chiefs summoned to military headquarters, that is what is wrong with the next election,” Tamborinyoka said, adding the PM will take the issue up with the President.

The PM also discussed the constitution reform exercise that is heading to the Second All Stakeholders Conference, and expressed the necessity for the conference to be staged in peace.

Mugabe also told a central committee meeting that the conference must not be allowed to descend into chaos.

MDC organising secretary and ICT minister Nelson Chamisa. - Gift Phiri

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