HARARE: Southern African countries said Monday they found it "very difficult" to declare Zimbabwe's elections fair, thanks to Robert Mugabe's monopoly on state media and problems with the electoral roll.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission which observed the July 31 election declared the poll "credible" but stopped short of calling it fair.
"On the question of fairness, it's very difficult to say everything was fair," SADC election observer Bernard Membe said in the capital Harare as he summarised his report.
The 15-member regional body reiterated its call for sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States against Zimbabwe to be lifted, saying they actually helped Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
"Sanctions cannot be used as a tool for winning elections. As long as sanctions are there, this ZANU-PF will prevail for another 100 years," he said.
Mugabe began another five-year term in office, his seventh, on August 22 after beating his rival Morgan Tsvangirai in the disputed poll.
Tsvangirai, who became prime minister through a power-sharing agreement with Mugabe negotiated by SADC after deadly post-election violence in 2008, called the vote a sham.
The body endorsed Mugabe's victory this year because "there were so many other elements that, when put together, elevated the election to a credible status", said Membe.
But the SADC was concerned by the late release of the electoral roll.
"If the voters' roll is not made available on time, the fairness of the election is brought into question," Membe said.
"Our observers on the ground reported complaints related to the delay in issuing the voters roll on time."
"And even in those areas where (the) voters' roll was issued a few days before, people had no access to it until the day of voting."
Local and international observers denounced several irregularities in the electoral roll, claiming that as many as 750,000 urban voters were not listed, and that, highly improbably, more than 100,000 people aged over 100 were named on the list.
SADC further noted "that media (state and pirate) were highly polarised and for the most part biased along party lines".
"Especially in the state media... people were not given equal opportunities," Membe said.
State media gave live coverage to Mugabe's rallies in the run-up to the polls, but not to other political parties.