Australia: foreign minister criticizes Zimbabwe senate election

Zimbabwe's senate election Saturday was a cynical exercise by President Robert Mugabe to shore up his political power base, Australia's foreign minister said.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer called on the economically troubled African country's neighbors to pressure Mugabe to address his nation's problems.

Nineteen of the 50 contestable seats in the new upper house are already ceded to Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party because no opposition candidates were running in those districts.

Another 10 seats are reserved for traditional chiefs chosen by the fiercely pro-government Council of Chiefs and six senators are appointed by Mugabe.

"Today's senate elections in Zimbabwe are a cynical act of political patronage to shore up President Mugabe's power-base in ZANU-PF, as the country's economic crisis and food shortage worsens," Downer said in a statement.

"They appear to be aimed at creating expensive sinecures for ZANU-PF cronies, while the real needs of the people of Zimbabwe remain unmet," he added.

Downer said the "deeply flawed elections" of March this year gave Mugabe the two-thirds majority he needed in parliament to amend the constitution to create the senate.

"The senate elections will be conducted on the same unlevel playing field as March gerrymandered boundaries, flawed electoral rolls and a range of repressive legislation to control political debate," Downer said.

"This farce is being played out at a time when the people of Zimbabwe face increasingly dire economic times 75 percent unemployment, over 300 percent inflation and acute shortages of necessities of all descriptions caused by gross economic mismanagement," he added.

The World Food Program will soon be feeding some 4.3 million Zimbabweans, or about a third of the population, Downer said.

"I hope that Zimbabwe's neighbors, who are best able to influence President Mugabe, can persuade the Zimbabwe government to change course," he said, AP reports. P.T.

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