Iden Wetherell in Sydney, Australia
AUSTRALIAN Foreign minister Alexander Downer said on Wednesday he was very concerned that Zimbabwe’s forthcoming election would not be free or fair given the “
well-documented harassment of journalists” and intimidation of the opposition.
“The media is restricted and has very little capacity to report public debate,” Downer said. “The opposition is disadvantaged. If the last election is any guide, the whole process of voting, the intimidation to stop people voting for opposition parties will all be repeated,” he said when opening the Commonwealth Press Union’s biennial conference in Sydney.
He said the election however provided an opportunity for Zimbabwe to break free of the patterns of the past and restore democracy.
“The Commonwealth, including Australia, helped bring about the modern Zimbabwe out of UDI and all of that into a non-discriminatory and democratic era,” Downer said.
“It slipped out of that paradigm and this is an opportunity to help it get back into it.”
Downer referred to the “substantial confrontation” his government had with Zimbabwe in 2003.
“The Zimbabwe issue was a great test,” he said. “Would the Commonwealth adhere to its core values or just form a loose federation of former British colonies?
“In a moment of pique (President Robert) Mugabe resigned. It was the right thing to do if you can’t adhere to core values of democracy and civil liberties.”
Downer said he would continue to raise the Zimbabwe issue in bilateral contacts with his southern African counterparts despite Harare’s departure from the Commonwealth.
He expressed concern about imprisoned Movement for Democratic Change MP Roy Bennett and said Australia had not forgotten him.