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Volume 624: debated on Tuesday 28 March 2017

1. What assessment he has made of whether Zimbabwe’s next election will be conducted freely and fairly. (909508)

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

In Zimbabwe, presidential and parliamentary elections are due to take place in 2018, but time is running out to implement the necessary preparations to allow voter registration to be completed. We regularly raise our concerns and the importance of free and fair elections, and this was done most recently on 21 March with the deputy Foreign Minister.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his honour.

Are the Government aware that the opposition parties and human rights groups are all saying that the rigging of elections has now commenced in Zimbabwe? Rural chiefs are being forced to take ZANU-PF cards and food is being used as a weapon, and if we do not get the United Nations, the African Union and particularly the South African Development Community to do something about the electoral registration system, we will not have free and fair elections. Can Her Majesty’s Government do even more to impress on those agencies that something must be done to keep the flame of hope alive for the Zimbabwean people?

The hon. Lady, who has deep experience in the country, is absolutely right to point to the worries about the electoral registration process and the prospect of unfair elections taking place. She is aware that we do not have the access we would like. We are concerned about the misuse of biometric data even now and about registration kits going missing and then being used. We are working with our counterparts, including the United Nations, as well as multi-donor programmes, to improve access to justice and for the media so that, hopefully, the elections can take place in a fairer atmosphere.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Chinese, Russian and Israeli money is flooding in, buying influence in anticipation of a post-Mugabe—probably ZANU-PF-led—environment. With that in mind, what are the Government doing to meet their manifesto pledge to uphold the rule of law in Zimbabwe, which could again become the centre of sub-Saharan Africa?

My hon. Friend is right to point to our manifesto commitment. Given the fact that Mugabe is still in place, he will understand that there are limits to what I can say, but I can assure him that we are working on this very hard indeed.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his actions last week.

There have been disturbing reports in which six women allege they were targeted for refusing to follow instructions to feign illiteracy, blindness and physical injury, which would have allowed someone else to assist them by marking their ballot. Will the Foreign Secretary urge the police officer in command of Mashonaland central province to investigate these disturbing reports?

The hon. Lady illustrates just one example of what is happening in the country as we lead up to these elections. That is why we and other nation states in the United Nations, and indeed in the African Union, are very concerned. We have limited access ourselves, so we need to place pressure on those countries that are working in the country, to make sure that free and fair elections can take place and that this sort of activity is not carried out.

May I, too, on behalf of those on the Conservative Benches, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his actions last week?

Has my right hon. Friend made any representations to Zimbabwe’s SADC neighbours—South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia—to try to put pressure on the Zimbabwean Government to ensure free and fair elections?

Yes, we have done so, and continue to do so. I will be visiting South Africa in the very near future, and this will be on the agenda. We are also working with the African Union to place pressure on Zimbabwe.