Election Watch 30-2023 - Observer Missions' Views on Elections : Part 1 : African Views

ELECTION WATCH 30/2023

[30th September 2023]

Observer Missions’ Views on Elections : Part 1 : African Views

Several observer missions have issued preliminary statements on Zimbabwe’s elections.  All of them have pointed out flaws in the electoral processes – some more forcefully than others.

In this Election Watch we shall deal with three statements issued by observers from the African continent.

The AU – COMESA Electoral Observation Mission

The African Union (AU) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa [COMESA] sent a joint election observation mission headed by a former President of Nigeria.  On the 25th August the mission issued a preliminary statement, which can be accessed on the Veritas website [link].  What follows is a summary of some of the Mission’s findings:

Preliminary findings

Legal framework:  The Mission commended Zimbabwe on ratifying the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

Delimitation:  Concerns persisted that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] had not consulted stakeholders, had used inaccurate population figures, and had gerrymandered electoral boundaries.

Voter registration:  The Mission commended ZEC for trying to register as many voters as possible, but noted that:

·lack of ID cards prevented many voters from being registered

·voters were given only five days to check their registration status

·voters rolls were issued late to parties and candidates, and high fees were charged for copies of the rolls, and

·generally the registration exercise was not conducted transparently.

Voter and civic education

While the Mission commended ZEC’s efforts in urging the public to register and participate in the elections, there were concerns that civil society organisations were accredited too late for them to provide voter education.

Nominations

Although 5 565 candidates in all were nominated for the elections, the Mission said that the steep increase in nomination fees disenfranchised eligible candidates, particularly those from under-represented groups.  The Mission also noted the nullification of Mr Kasukuwere’s candidacy by the High Court.

Election campaigns

The Mission appreciated the largely peaceful campaigns but reported concerns about the stifling effect of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act.

Inclusiveness

Women:  The extension of the women’s quota in Parliament was highly commendable, but the Mission noted that there were fewer women candidates than in 2018, possibly due to the high nomination fees.  The lower participation of women undermined Zimbabwe’s aspiration towards gender equality.

Youth:  The Mission commended the adoption of a youth quota in the National Assembly.

People living with disabilities:  The Mission regretted that the quota of Senate seats reserved for people living with disabilities had not been increased beyond two.

Media environment

The regulatory environment continued to be restrictive and inhibitive, the Mission was told, and some stakeholders raised concerns about unequal access to State media.

Security

The Mission noted that security preparations for the elections were good and the environment remained largely peaceful and calm, though it also noted concerns about the activities of Forever Associates Zimbabwe.

Civil society

Concerns were reported about delays in accrediting local observers from civil society, though 3 572 election observers were eventually accredited.

The Mission expressed deep concern about the arrest of persons working for the Zimbabwe Election Support Network [ZESN] and the Election Resource Centre [ERC], which potentially undermined the peace and integrity of the electoral process.

Electoral dispute resolution

Multi-party liaison committees had been set up to provide alternative dispute resolution, but there were some reports that they had been largely inactive.

Polling

Although ZEC had said two days before the election that 98 per cent of preparations were done and that election materials had been delivered, the mission noted that some polling stations opened late because ballot papers were delivered late, and the situation was not communicated to political parties and candidates in good time.

Of the 35 polling stations visited by the Mission throughout Zimbabwe, 81 per cent opened on time.  Polling officers (72 per cent of whom were women) showed professionalism and competence.  Party agents were present at all polling stations visited, in accordance with the law, though the Mission noted the presence of Forever Associates Zimbabwe which led to some confrontations with voters.

Recommendations

The Mission made recommendations to the Government, Parliament, ZEC, political parties and civil society organisations [CSOs].  The recommendations include the following:

The Government should:

1.   Exempt local observers from paying accreditation fees, in line with international best practice.

2.   Increase representation of persons living with disabilities and compel parties to put forward more women as constituency candidates [both these recommendations could be implemented through an amendment of the Political Parties (Finance) Act, making State financing conditional on parties nominating a specified quota of women and persons living with disabilities].

3.   Domesticate the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance into Zimbabwean law.

ZEC should:

1.   Extend the code of conduct for political parties to address intimidation of voters by party affiliates.

2.   Make the election timetable more flexible to accommodate emerging issues such as court cases.

3.   Review postal voting procedures to enhance secrecy (of the vote) and transparency (of the process).

4.   Further decentralise the accreditation of local election observers.

5.   Finalise the voters rolls on time and build confidence by allowing political parties to review voters rolls.

6.   Accredit CSOs in time for them to provide voter education throughout the electoral cycle.

[Note: The first three of these recommendations will require legislation, so they will have to be implemented by the Government and Parliament, not ZEC]

Political parties should:

1.   Strengthen internal democracy to promote inclusive and competitive selection of candidates.

2.   Stop political activities of affiliates on polling day.

CSOs should:

1.   Continue to urge electoral reforms.

2.   Urge more participation of women, youths and persons with disabilities in elective positions and political parties.

3.   Further promote transparency and accountability in ZEC.

The SADC Electoral Observation Mission

The observer mission from the Southern African Development Community was forthright in its criticism of the elections and electoral processes.  Its preliminary statement can be accessed on the Veritas website [link].  The Mission found that the pre-election and voting phases [23rd to 24th August] were peaceful and calm, but several aspects of the process fell short of the requirements of the Constitution, the Electoral Act and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections of 2021:

Delimitation

Delimitation of electoral boundaries before the poll was flawed, in that constituencies varied by more than the permissible 20 per cent laid down in section 161(6) of the Constitution.

Voters rolls

ZEC failed to make the voters rolls available in good time to contesting parties, violating section 21 of the Electoral Act and the constitutional requirement that elections be transparent and fair.

Freedom of assembly

The Mission noted reports that opposition CCC meetings were unreasonably cancelled by the Police.

Freedom of expression

The Mission considered that the recent amendment to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (“the Patriot Act”), which restricted freedom of expression, is incompatible with section 61(1) of the Constitution and paragraph 4.1.2 of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.

Nomination fees

High nomination fees may have discouraged less well-off members of the community, including women, from standing as candidates, in violation of paragraph 4.1.7 of the SADC Principles and Guidelines.

Participation of women

Despite the innovations that Zimbabwe has made, more needed to be done to enhance the participation of women in contested seats;  there was less participation of women than there had been in 2018.

Judicial independence

There were perceptions that members of the judiciary were biased in favour of the governing party.

Voter intimidation

The rural vote might have been compromised by the actions of Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), a quasi-security intelligence organisation deployed to around 36 000 villages.

Postal voting

The Mission heard allegations that police officers had been coerced into voting in a particular way by their superior officers.

State Media coverage

Although there was some improvement from 2018, State media – press and broadcasting – favoured one political party, contrary to the Constitution, the Electoral Act and the SADC Principles and Guidelines.

Election day observations

The Mission visited 172 polling stations and identified the following problems, though generally the atmosphere was calm and peaceful:

·36 per cent of polling stations did not open on time, and some opened more than 12 hours late.  This dissuaded some voters from voting at all.

·The voters roll was unavailable at 1 per cent of the polling stations visited.

·8 per cent of the polling stations were not accessible to voters living with disabilities.

·At 50 per cent of the polling stations, priority was not given to the elderly, pregnant women and persons living with disabilities.

·Persons dressed in FAZ regalia and other unidentified persons were observed taking down voters’ names before they voted.

Preliminary recommendations

The Mission made the following preliminary recommendations:

Access to the voters roll:  ZEC was advised to follow strictly the provisions of the Constitution on transparency and access to information, and to avail the voters roll in accordance with the Electoral Act.

State media coverage:  Laws requiring State-owned media to be impartial should be implemented.

Nomination fees:  ZEC was advised to revise nomination fees in consultation with key stakeholders, taking into account economic realities in Zimbabwe.

Voting materials:  ZEC was urged to strengthen transparency in the procurement and distribution of all voting materials, and to put in place a monitoring system in which stakeholders participate.

Participation of women:  Measures to enhance the participation of women as candidates should be put in place quickly by the next Parliament.

The Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries

Another preliminary statement, which is also available on the Veritas website [link]was issued by a mission from the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries, an independent regional organisation of electoral management bodies of SADC members.

The statement noted concerns raised by stakeholders in regard to voter registration, limited collaboration between ZEC and civil society organisations, discriminatory application of the law requiring police approval for gatherings, failure to reform the electoral law, and exorbitant nomination fees.

The Mission concluded that the elections were held within a legal framework which largely constrained the technical and operational aspects of ZEC’s work.  To remedy these constraints, the Mission made various recommendations to ZEC:

Voters rolls

The period for inspecting voters rolls should be increased, and rolls should be available at polling stations ahead of polling day.

Delimitation

Delimitation should be conducted in a more timely manner and with more public consultation and participation.

Nomination of candidates

A time-limit should be fixed for the conclusion of appeals from nomination of candidates, particularly in local authority elections.

Observers

ZEC should address issues relating to the selective accreditation of observers and the dual accreditation of media practitioners.

Use of technology

Technology should be introduced to enhance efficiency in the electoral processes.

Transparency of ZEC

ZEC should improve its communication strategy to increase transparency and accountability and foster public trust.  In particular, ZEC should provide clear and regular updates to the electorate and stakeholders during polling and in the period leading up to the announcement of results.

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