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Johannesburg - In a startling recommendation on how to improve its future polls, the South African parliament's observer mission to Zimbabwe's recent election has cautioned the country to use indelible ink more economically.
Even more baffling is the fact that it is one of only two recommendations, indicating that the predominantly African National Congress team could find almost no fault with the controversial 2005 election which gave the ruling Zanu-PF a two-thirds majority.
The two recommendations are contained in a 60-page report that has been given to the speaker but is yet to be published and debated by parliament. The Sunday Independent obtained a copy of the report.
In it, the MPs point a finger at Britain for "biased" international views of Zimbabwe and also state that they could not find evidence of intimidation prior to the election.
The final report is far from unanimous as the mission leader, ANC chief whip Mbulelo Goniwe, said from the outset that no minority views would be included in the final report.
After only two days in Harare, the Independent Democrats representative, Vincent Gore, pulled out in protest. Other opposition parties later broke ranks when their views could not be accommodated by the 12 ANC members.
From its daily reports attached to the main report, it appears the MPs were able to verify one one case of intimidation. While listing several allegations almost daily, it states in each case that it could not be verified. It is not clear from the report whether they tried, what methodology they used and whether in fact the allegations were refuted.
It could also find "no verifiable evidence" of the allegations about "food for votes" and the use of traditional leaders to influence voters, nor of the fact that not all parties had equal access to the media.
Apart from "a more economic use of indelible ink", the only other recommendation to Zimbabwe was "to reduce the number of people turned away on voting day, political parties should also play a role to ensure voters are registered correctly".
This was after the conclusion by ANC MPs that "there were correct voters' rolls at the stations".
It is generally accepted that the gerrymandering of constituencies shortly before the election and the shambled voters role made it extremely difficult for opposition parties to ensure their supporters were registered correctly. In fact, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, the largest independent group that observed the elections, found that 10 percent of voters nationwide were turned away.
"In several constituencies the difference between the winner and the loser was less than the number of voters turned away," it said in a report published this week by the South African Institute for International Affairs.
It was listed as one of "13 Dimensions of Unfairness" in the election, which the network found had violated nearly all the Southern African Development Community (SADC) principles.
The parliamentary mission, however, concluded that the elections were "executed efficiently", that the process was "legitimate and credible" and "in line with the laws of the land and, by and large, were consistent with the SADC Principles and Guidelines.
"The mission accordingly concluded that the 2005 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections represented the will of the people of Zimbabwe," the report states before getting into its recommendations.
"Having concluded the elections process, the country needs to work on rebuilding regional and international confidence through continued focus on electoral reforms and economic revival policies," it said before listing the two recommendations.
The Democratic Alliance, the Freedom Front and the Independent Democrats have rejected the polls as being neither free nor fair.
The baffling reference to indelible ink seems to be based on observations by the team on election day. In an annexure of the voting it stated under "other" conclusions that: "During polling, those who have voted dip a finger into the indelible ink. This spoils the polling station, particularly the floors."
Zimbabwe has the fastest shrinking economy in the world and its currency was devalued this week by more than 30 percent, but it is not clear how saving on election ink could alleviate the problem.
On the other hand, the reference to the need for rebuilding confidence seems to stem clearly from the mission's adopted context for its work. Listing the objectives of the observer mission, it states: "A further circumstance characterising the current political environment in regard to Zimbabwe was the hostile international, regional and local media environment, which is grossly biased, prejudiced and partisan against the government."
Taking its cue from President Robert Mugabe, who fought the election on an anti-British ticket, the ANC report goes on to point the finger at Zimbabwe's former colonial master, Britain.
"The question, therefore, is why is the international community so focused on Zimbabwe's internal problems when similar situations exist in other countries in the world," it asks.
"It appears that the role played by the UK government in general, and the plight of white Zimbabweans in particular should provide part of the answer."