HARARE, Zimbabwe — Two U.S.-based groups invited by Zimbabwe's government to observe the historic July elections said Friday that several reforms are needed to ensure a credible vote and make a "break with the past."
Zimbabwe faces the first election since its 1980 independence without longtime leader Robert Mugabe, who stepped down in November under military and ruling party pressure. President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe ally, has invited dozens of foreign groups and countries to observe the July 30 vote — the first time in nearly two decades.
Elections in the southern African nation have long been marked by allegations of violence and fraud. The United States and others have indicated that a free and fair vote is a key step toward lifting international sanctions.
The National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute called for a more transparent voters' roll, meaningful observation by political parties of the vote and the military's public pledge to serve the winner regardless of party.
While the joint mission after a week-long visit noted several improvements in Zimbabwe's political climate, "a number of significant opportunities to break with the past have been missed," said former U.S. congressman David Dreier.
"As a result, we still have concerns about the fairness of the process."
Others have expressed concern. Thousands of opposition supporters marched in the capital, Harare, on Tuesday to demand electoral reforms and warn they would not allow the vote to go ahead if it isn't free and fair. They called for an end to alleged military interference in the electoral commission and an end to alleged state media bias.
Human Rights Watch on Thursday said that in interviews across the country it had found evidence of ruling ZANU-PF party supporters intimidating members of the public into handing over voter registration slips and pledging their support.
"The ability of voters to freely choose their leaders is in serious doubt," Human Rights Watch said.
In a new report by the pan-African research project Afrobarometer, 44 percent of 2,400 random Zimbabweans surveyed said it was very or somewhat likely that incorrect election results would be announced.
The report also said 42 percent of those surveyed would vote for the ruling party if the election were held tomorrow, with 30 percent saying they'd vote for the opposition MDC-T.