HARARE (AFP) — EU member states and the United States have been excluded from a list of observers who will be invited to monitor the March 29 general elections in Zimbabwe, the government announced Friday.
Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi said a number of regional bodies such as the African Union would be asked to oversee the joint presidential and parliamentary elections on March 29.
So too would representatives from allies of President Robert Mugabe's regime such as China, Iran and Venezuela.
However, the only European country which had been invited to send monitors was Russia, while the Commonwealth was also left off the invitation list.
"Clearly, those who believe that the only free and fair election is where the opposition wins, have been excluded since the ruling party, ZANU-PF, is poised to score yet another triumph," Mumbengegwi was quoted in the state-run Herald newspaper as telling a gathering of diplomats.
The United States and European Union both imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his inner circle after they alleged that he had rigged his re-election in 2002.
Mugabe pulled his country out of the Commonwealth in December 2003 after the organisation of predominantly former British colonies announced plans to extend Zimbabwe's suspension imposed after the presidential polls.
The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) deplored what it said was a biased selection of observer groups for the latest election.
"This shows the government has a lot to hide," MDC secretary for legal affairs Innocent Gonese told AFP.
"If everything was being done in a fair and transparent manner, there would be no need to exclude other countries. Those who have been invited will hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil and endorse a flawed election."
Similar criticism came from the camp of Zimbawe's former finance minister Simba Makoni who is also challenging Mugabe in the presidential election and is held to have some quiet support within the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
"In a normal democracy you would want to have as many friends as possible. Regrettably, some of our colleagues don't share this view and this is reflected in the choice of monitors they have invited," Makoni's spokesman Godfrey Chanetsa told AFP.
"If they were doing things right, they would be comfortable with anyone coming to observe the elections. This is a landmark election and we would have wanted the whole world to come and observe it."
Mugabe has frequently accused the West of bankrolling the MDC and of seeking regime change in Zimbabwe.
In an interview on the eve of his 84th birthday last month, Mugabe said he saw no reason why countries such as the US should monitor the ballot as Zimbabwe had never been invited to monitor elections for the White House.
The EU was also barred from observed the country's last presidential elections in 2002. The head of the bloc observer mission Pierre Schori was expelled on the even of the poll on charges of breaching terms of his tourist visa by making careless political statements."
Mugabe, who is seeking a sixth term in office after leading the southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980, has since sought closer ties with Asia as part of a "Look East" policy.
As well as China, Mumbengegwi said India, Malaysia and Indonesia would all be welcome to oversee the ballot. Other countries also invited to send monitors include Brazil, Nicaragua and Libya.
Among African countries on the invite list are Kenya and Nigeria, both of whom have staged elections in the last year which were criticized as flawed.
Regional bodies invited to send observer missions include the Southern African Development Community, the Economic Community of West African States and the Pan African Parliament.
Mugabe faces challenges for the presidency from both the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Makoni at a time when Zimbabwe is in economic meltdown, characterised by an inflation rate of more than 100,000 percent and an unemployment rate of around 80 percent.
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