On 31 July 2013 Zimbabwe held harmonised elections for the Presidency, the National Assembly, the Senate and local authorities. ZESN deployed 7 099 observers to every province and constituency in the country on 31 July 2013, set at the ‘Election Day’. Reports from observers during the election and throughout the entire process, demonstrated that the credibility of the 2013 harmonised elections was compromised by a systematic effort to disenfranchise many voters. ZESN observers reported on the opening, voting and closing and counting of votes and reported on any critical incidents witnessed in the course of their observation.
Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections were highly anticipated because they came at the end of a period of political uncertainty and were expected to lead to a more stable political era for the country. The elections were the culmination of a political process that started with the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) following the 2008 disputed harmonised elections. The GPA itself was signed to end an epoch of political conflict in the country. The GPA created a Government of National Unity (GNU) that was tasked with amongst other issues, implementing legal and constitutional reforms, as well as to facilitate a period of national healing and creating an enabling environment for the conduct of credible elections and an outcome respected by all stakeholders in the process.
A few weeks before the elections a new Constitution was adopted in Zimbabwe following a successful referendum held in March 2013. Consequently, the legislative framework governing elections were conducted using an electoral framework that had been reformed through the Electoral Amendment Act of 2012, the new Constitution of Zimbabwe, and various statutory instruments that were passed shortly before the elections. Several amendments introduced during the runner up to the elections changed the electoral administration practices and process. There were structural changes to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). Results transmission system was to become ward based in an effort to make ZEC more independent. The electoral system was significantly changed to be mixed with various proportional representation measures for the Senate, provincial councils and the newly introduced quota system for women in the National Assembly. However, until the conduct of the harmonised elections, a number of provisions in the GNU reform agenda had not been implemented and remained outstanding, such as media reforms, levelling the operating environment, and national healing, among others. As a result, this election could be labelled a rushed election given the outstanding issues.
Elections were to be conducted based on the electoral boundaries in the first elections. There was no new delimitation of boundaries after the passing of the Constitution. Due to the election deadline set by the country’s highest court there was a relatively short period between the proclamation of the election and actual poll day. Nevertheless, normal steps in the electoral process were followed, albeit with some logistical and financial limitations. There were two mobile voter registration exercises which registered an estimated one million new voters, although this was less than the number of those who wanted to register. A number of problems were faced during the mobile voter registration which included, the limited time in which the registration teams were in the wards which left many potential registrants unregistered, inadequate education to citizens on the process and the lack of consistency in application of regulations among others.
The new Electoral Amendment Act provides for special voting and this was conducted on the 14th of July and the 15th of July 2013. The special vote was characterised by logistical problems, as voting materials were delivered late, some applicants did not receive their envelopes, and in some instances envelopes went to the wrong polling stations. The process moved slowly and a decision was made to extend the vote. However, despite this extension, most applicants for the special vote did not cast their vote. The lack of full participation of the applicants prompted a call to allow those disenfranchised to vote in the harmonised elections on 31 July 2013. ZESN also noted with concern that at times names of those that had voted were not crossed out in the voters roll hence fears of double voting arose.
Nomination of candidates was held in a peaceful manner with a number of political parties campaigning and robust competition witnessed being in the National Assembly and local authority elections. However, sporadic reports of intimidation and forced party allegiance were recorded in the pre-election and campaigning period. However, the campaign period and polling day was generally peaceful. Going into the election there were serious reservations about the disenfranchisement of potential voters through an inadequate voter registration process, inequitable access to the media and the integrity of the voters’ roll.
Additionally, political parties were unable to access the final voters’ roll until the eve of the election. This voters’ roll was provided in hard copy not electronic copy as provided for by the law which was difficult to analyse. Other election management issues included questions about the resourcing and independence of the ZEC, which conducted the poll. Although ZEC faced its own constraints its activities were conducted under intense scrutiny.
Election Day was peaceful but characterised by unusually high numbers of assisted voters, amid allegations of forced voting. Many voters were turned away as they were not on the voters’ roll. Whilst some of this could be attributed to voters not knowing their correct wards, there were sufficient numbers of people who were unable to vote at the same station where they had previously voted in 2008. Most of those affected had not changed their registration, resulting in concerns and allegations of manipulation of the voters’ roll. Unlike the previous election of 2008, there were no problems with the results management and announcement as the process was swift, with most election locations displaying results outside the venue as required by law.
The Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) rejected the results, threatened to boycott Parliament and government, and subsequently challenged its losses in the presidential race as well as in some of the National Assembly seats. The court challenge against the presidential election outcome was eventually withdrawn with the MDC-T citing several reasons such as lack of access to election material amongst others. Other cases against National Assembly results were withdrawn as the candidates failed to raise the USD$10, 000 that was required as security for costs by the Electoral Court.
The voters’ roll of 19 June as provided by the Office of the Registrar-General clearly showed that urban voters had systematically been denied the opportunity to register to vote. An estimated 99.97 per cent
of potential rural voters were registered, while only about 67.94 per cent of the potential urban voters were registered.
At 82 per cent of urban polling stations ZESN observers reported that potential voters were turned away and not permitted to vote for reasons that included names not appearing on the voters’ roll and turning up at the wrong ward for voting. This was in sharp contrast to rural areas where only 38 per cent of polling stations turned away many potential voters. This served to disenfranchise thousands more urban voters. These factors on their own fundamentally compromised the credibility and fairness of 2013 harmonised elections.
The limited time to prepare for the elections affected the electoral process. Key aspects of the process, in particular the registration of voters, were insufficiently funded. Funding for other key processes was often received late. Politically, the process suffered from the continued suspicion and mistrust between the contesting parties, biased media coverage, intimidation of prospective voters, and the lack of intra-party democracy, among other factors. There were incidents of harassment of civil society activists who were arrested during the campaign, a significant number of them on charges of conducting voter education without the authorization of the electoral commission.
ZESN makes the following recommendations to improve the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe:
Massive and adequate voter education to be provided to citizens in order to ensure the franchise of all citizens.
The voter registration process needs to be conducted timeously to ensure that eligible voters are registered. In addition, ZEC needs to address the rural-urban bias in voter registration as urban voters faced difficulties while the rural registration was smooth and without hurdles.
ZEC needs to interrogate the huge numbers of assisted voters and people turned away in order to rectify particular anomalies in the environment.
ZEC should be in total control of the Voters’ Roll and not the Registrar-General’s office. In addition, there is need to start working on the polling station-based voters’ roll using the 2013 voter information gathered at the polling stations. Polling station based voters’ roll is provided for in the law so that it can be used in the next elections.
There is need to consider biometric voters’ roll system as a way of enhancing transparency in the electoral system.
ZEC needs to stick to best practice regarding the printing of extra ballot papers as the production of 35 per cent more ballots is high and outside internationally accepted standards.
ZEC needs to be adequately funded to ensure proper implementation of electoral processes, such as voter registration and voter education, among others.
ZEC needs to ensure consistency in the application of regulations with regard to particular requirements for voter registration and voting with registration slips, as there were inconsistencies across polling stations.
The media environment needs to be reformed to ensure a greater diversity of news sources reaching all corners of the country, and a professional national public broadcaster untainted by bias.
There is need for further decentralisation of the accreditation of local observers and put in place an easy and faster way of accrediting observers similar to party agents.
The political parties finance act needs to be reviewed in order to increase accountability of tax payer’s money
The role of traditional leaders needs to be revisited to ensure they are impartial and to ensure inclusivity in their respective jurisdiction.
There is a need to review the Special Voting method used and ZESN urges ZEC to prepare in advance to avoid the logistical challenges experienced in this election.
In order to enhance confidence in their processes, ZEC needs to make available to the contesting parties, candidates, accredited observers and the public, the election materials used for 2013 harmonised elections, such as the voters’ roll, polling station results, marked voters’ roll used for the special vote, and ballot papers, among other material, in order to increase citizen confidence, transparency and accountability.
In conclusion, ZESN reiterates its concerns on the critical factors such as inadequate and delayed voter education, an inadequate and flawed voter registration process, failure to provide the voters’ roll to political parties and stakeholders on time, chaotic special voting, and the high numbers of assisted and turned away voters. These highlighted challenges seriously compromised the credibility and fairness of the 31 July 2013 Harmonised Elections.