Zimbabwean Bishops Urge Fair Election
Pastoral Letter Looks Ahead to March Balloting
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"Elections 2008: Only When Power Stands Under God's Blessing Can It Be Trusted" was published Sunday and signed by eight Zimbabwean bishops, including Archbishop Robert Ndlovu of Harare, president of the episcopal conference. The prelates urged the government and all political parties to a free and fair election, in contrast with past votes, "marred by controversy and violence."
"The Church looks beyond political parties and derives its ethos from the eternal kingdom of God, a kingdom of love, truth, justice, freedom and peace," they wrote. "Individual Christians can make their own decisions as to which party comes closest to the Christian ethos. [...] Voting should be guided more by one's moral convictions than by one's attachment to a political party or interest group. Christian voters should use the Christian social teaching to examine the views of the candidates on pertinent issues and should consider the candidates' integrity and their past or potential performance.
"As your shepherds, we encourage you to vote in an atmosphere of peace. To neglect your duty to vote is to be irresponsible for you leave others to decide your future for you. Remember, it is good people who allow bad governments to get into power. Participation in political life in the light of fundamental moral principles is an essential duty of every Christian and all people of good will."
The bishops expressed concern about the electoral system, and particularly urged freedom of press before elections.
"The media should serve all sections of the society," they wrote. "All parties should have access to media coverage to explain their programs."
South Africa is currently brokering talks between the Zimbabwe government and opposition parties regarding security and media laws. Three pieces of legislation restrict freedom of the press and the opportunity for opposition party members to meet. The laws were introduced after 83-year-old President Robert Mugabe's disputed re-election in 2002.
The bishops of Zimbabwe affirmed: "All political parties should be free to campaign and have equal access to state resources in the form of media coverage, police protection, financial subsidies, etc. Civil servants, in particular, are not party cadres and must render the all important and impartial civil service throughout the elections to ensure free and fair elections.
"People should be free to attend party meetings of their choice. To promote informed choices, all those organizations concerned with civic education should team up to educate people about elections and encourage open-minded citizens. It is healthy for citizens to hold different political opinions and engage in rational disputation, while all the time respecting each other's dignity."
The bishops also touched on practical points during elections, such as long lines for registering and voting. "We appeal to the relevant authorities to make sure the electoral process is efficient and user-friendly," they said. "Long queues discourage potential voters from voting. Monitors and observers help to create a free, fair and peaceful atmosphere. Zimbabwe should be proud to invite both local and international observers to witness to democracy in action."
Finally, the bishops encouraged a peaceful after-election atmosphere.
"Losing candidates and parties in a free and fair election do not find it difficult to accept defeat," they affirmed. "Good losers are also peacemakers. [...] After elections, all citizens should join forces to build the Zimbabwe we all want. We appeal to all citizens to adopt a spirit of oneness and solidarity."
The bishops concluded appealing for prayers for the nation. "May the electoral process of 2008 bring us a national rebirth and help us to grow in the love of God and neighbor, as Zimbabwe regains its rightful place among the nations of the world."