Election Watch 32-2023 - EU Observer Mission Final Report

ELECTION WATCH 32/2023

[30th November 2023]

Observer Missions’ Views on Elections : Part 3 

EU Observer Mission Final Report

On the 17th November the European Union Election Observation Mission released its final report on the general election held in August.  The report can be accessed on the Veritas website [link].  As foreshadowed in its preliminary statement, the report is highly critical of the way the election was conducted.

In this bulletin we shall briefly outline the Mission’s findings and then set out its recommendations.

The EU Mission’s Findings

The Mission’s findings are summed up in the first paragraph of the report:

“The 23 August 2023 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe were marked by a curtailment of rights and freedoms and the lack of a level playing field, which limited voters’ ability to make their choices in a genuinely free and pluralistic environment.  A palpable fear of violence underlay the electoral process throughout, and a climate of retribution developed after the elections. In this context, comprehensive and meaningful reforms, and the political will to engage in them are necessary on the part of the Zimbabwean authorities to lay the ground for genuine and credible elections in the future.”

More specifically, the Mission made the following findings:

·Local observers faced a shrinking space for civic activities, as well as administrative barriers and intimidation.

·Recent legal changes, in particular the passing of the “Patriot Act”, the introduction of the PVO Amendment Bill as well as selective application of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act, limited freedoms of association and expression.

·Delimitation was not properly conducted, with deviations between constituencies exceeding the constitutional limits.

·Constitutional amendments reduced the judiciary’s independence, prejudicing the electoral process.

·Throughout the electoral period the activities of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] were characterised by lack of transparency and insufficient communication.

·Delays in sharing the voters rolls with stakeholders cast doubt on the integrity of voter registration.

·High fees and inconsistent application of the rules by ZEC and nomination courts reduced the inclusivity of candidate registration.  

·Minority groups struggled to participate in the elections.

·The news media and social media were polarised and the State-owned media were biased in favour of the ruling party.

·On polling day ruling party activists exerted undue pressure on some voters.

·Election results could not be independently verified in the absence of publicly available data disaggregated by polling station.

The Mission’s Priority Recommendations

The Mission made the following priority recommendations for improving Zimbabwe’s electoral system:

·The electoral law should be amended comprehensively and meaningfully to bring it into line with regional and international standards.  The reforms should emphasise transparency and inclusivity.

·ZEC and its staff should be able to operate without political interference.  Government should not have the right to approve ZEC’s regulations.

·ZEC should provide the public with timely and comprehensive information on all aspects of its electoral preparations, including its decisions and regulations.

·The Maintenance of Peace and Order Act should be amended to limit discretionary application and ensure it does not unduly limit freedom of association.

·Undue restrictions and pressures on election observers should be removed.

·Procedures for the appointment of judges should be reviewed to guarantee separation of powers.

·ZEC should publish timely election results, disaggregated by polling station.

The Mission’s Other Recommendations

Other recommendations made by the Mission were the following:

·ZEC should comply with the constitutional provisions on delimitation of electoral boundaries.

·ZEC should comprehensively audit the voters rolls, proactively disclose all information on voter registration, and provide stakeholders with meaningful and timely access to the final voters rolls.

·Requirements for nomination of candidates, in particular fees, should be reviewed to bring them into line with international standards, and they should be applied consistently.

·Measures should be taken to mitigate the advantages of incumbency and ensure that State resources are not misused.

·Partisanship of civil servants and traditional leaders should be sanctioned.

·Campaign financing should be disclosed and monitored by an independent authority.

·Accreditation of journalists should be simplified and made more transparent.

·ZBC should be transformed into a truly independent public service broadcaster, and State-owned news media should be impartial.

·Support should be given to independent fact-checking of social media in order to prevent information manipulation.

·The Interception of Communications Act and the Cyber and Data Protection Act should be amended to protect freedom of expression and privacy.

·The parliamentary women and youth quotas should be revised to give effective gender equality and youth representation.

·The Disabled Persons Act should be amended to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

·All minorities should be included in the electoral process.

·Legal deadlines for the finalisation of electoral disputes should be reviewed to provide expeditious decisions which do not unduly delay the electoral process.

·ZEC should ensure that delays in delivering election material to polling stations do not occur in future.

Comments

As we said at the beginning of this bulletin, the EU Mission’s report is highly critical of the way the general election was conducted.  The criticisms that the election was neither free nor fair and failed to meet regional and international standards which Zimbabwe is committed to meeting were justified.  This does not mean that the ruling party should have lost the election and the opposition should have won;  what it means is that voters were not able to make an informed choice between the candidates and to express their preferences freely at the ballot box.  The ruling party might have won the election if it had been properly conducted, but now we shall never know.

Implementing the Mission’s recommendations will entail a complete overhaul of the electoral law, a fresh delimitation of electoral boundaries, a re-registration of voters, reform of the public and private news media and a rethink of independence of the judiciary.  It is hoped that the  Government will embark on such changes well before the next electoral cycle.

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