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Zimbabwe Council of Churches Unhappy Over ZEC, Political Parties' Handling of Council, Parly By-elections


Voters at a polling station and some election observers. (ZCC)

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) says it is concerned about the manner in which the country’s council and parliamentary by-elections were conducted last Saturday as opposition parties were barred from holding campaign rallies while the ruling party reached as many people as possible without any police interference.

In its report titled ‘Ecumenical Election Observation Preliminary Findings on the 26 March 2022 By-elections’, ZCC said, “The Church noted that the political playing field remained unequal for political parties. Frequent suppression of some opposition parties was observed during the pre- election period. The Church is concerned about this selective application of the law as it undermines confidence in Law Enforcement Institutions.

“Some opposition political parties faced challenges in holding their campaign rallies across the country, as the police would either deny their applications or accept with stiff restrictions or conditions, which would not apply to other political parties. ZEC’s handling of the voter’s roll raised a lot of concerns before and during the elections.”

Zimbabwe Council of Churches representatives. (ZCC)
Zimbabwe Council of Churches representatives. (ZCC)

ZCC said the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was unclear about the voters’ register to be used in the by-elections as it appeared stunned by social media reports indicating that the roll was in a shambles.

“On the 18th of February 2022, the ZEC issued a press statement that was originally meant to clarify some issues that had emerged through the various social media platforms. Through the statement, the ZEC’s presentation was interpreted to mean that the voters’ roll that had been in the public domain being analysed by different actors, was a ‘tempered copy’, and that it had been inappropriately released through ‘verbal request.’ This raised concerns that the voters’ roll was not protected and could be tempered with.

“ZEC disowned the voters’ roll that was in the public domain, it did not go on to provide its correct version. For the Church, this case raised concerns regarding either the competency or credibility of ZEC,” said ZCC in its report.

Some election observers, (ZCC)
Some election observers, (ZCC)

ZCC said the election environment was generally calm throughout the day in Zimbabwe and they observed some exceptional cases in Kwekwe, Mbizo Constituency, Ward 1 Mbizo Youth Centre Polling Station where a Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party agent was assaulted by an unidentified man.

“In the same city at Black Wadada Polling Station, the environment was tense and at some point, members of the Police Support Unit were deployed. It can therefore be concluded that Kwekwe is one of the regions to be closely studied in terms of its propensity to violence.

Polling Agents/Voting Process

ZCC said ZANU-PF and the CCC managed to field polling agents at all the observed polling stations but this was not the case with other political parties, which were inconsistent in their deployment of polling agents. “This is hugely commendable as the presence of political party agents safeguard the integrity and transparency of elections.

ZCC said voters’ names were checked against the voters’ roll and those with their names appearing on the voters’ roll were allowed to proceed with the voting process.

“Each voter was marked with indelible ink on the far-left hand finger before casting votes. The number of returned voters continued to increase as the day progressed due to lack of identity document (IDs), missing names and misspelt names on the voters’ roll. As at 6:30pm, a total of 24 people at Simathele Primary School in Ward 8 Binga North (at Polling Stations A, B and C) and 21 others at Shakashe Primary School Ward 7 in Masvingo had been turned away for reasons mentioned above.

“At Chizungu Primary School Ward 4 Polling Station in Epworth, an elderly woman originally from Malawi was initially turned away due to a misspelt name. The polling officials later allowed her to vote after they confirmed her identity against her ID.”

ZCC said cases of assisted voters were generally observed in all wards and of note are the 21 youths who were assisted voters atat Ward 4 Matione Primary School in Chipinge.

Zimbabwe Council of Churches' election observers. (ZCC)
Zimbabwe Council of Churches' election observers. (ZCC)

Based on its pre-election assessment and Election Day findings, the ZCC says the by-elections were “conducted in a manner that does not fully promote the aspirations of the Church as captured in the Ecumenical Elections Covenant.

“Although ZEC made a step in the right direction in the areas of voter registration, gender sensitivity and maintenance of professionalism in their conduct, there is still room for improvement in the areas of voters’ roll management, polling station accessibility by PWDs and elderly voters.”

Inadequate Voter Education/Low Voter Turnout

ZCC also noted that some voters came wearing colors that are associated with certain political parties out of ignorance of the electoral regulations.

“Cases were identified for example in Mberengwa South Ward 25 and Dzivaresekwa 4B Primary School Polling Stations among others. As observed throughout the day, some voters were turned away for bringing wrong identity cards such as driver’s licenses instead of national identity cards or valid passports. All these are signs that there is inadequate voters education,”

ZCC said there was a low turnout in the Saturday by-elections.

“In most areas voter turnout was very low. For example, at Chinamano Primary School, Ward 7, out of the 596 registered voters, 68 had voted as at 2pm. In Ward 19, Fern Valley in Manicaland, by midday, only 30 people had voted. Turnout was also recorded to be-low in Chivi South Ward 25 at Ngundu Catholic Church and in Mwenezi Ward 18. The turnout in Mwenezi, for example, increased after the rains had ceased around 4pm.”

Recommendations

In light of these observations, ZCC recommend has recommended that there is need for the promotion of inter-party and intra-party tolerance through local political dialogues, ZEC should intensify its voter education program particularly in rural and remote areas, political parties are expected to promote internal democracy by running credible internal primary elections.

ZCC also recommended that political parties should promote the participation of women and youth in their parliamentary representation, fully adhere to COVID-19 regulations during campaign rallies, ensure that polling stations are disability friendly for PWDs and the elderly, there is need for comprehensive capacity building program for polling officers so that time will not be wasted when conducting polling station election processes.

They also encouraged the promotion of independent and impartial private and public media, continued support of political agents to support the credibility of elections, engagement with the police regarding their dealing with political parties should be prioritized by all key election stakeholders before the 2023 elections.

Furthermore, said ZCC, critical institutions such as the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission should publicly condemn all forms of political violence in order to help build public confidence in public institutions.

ZCC also recommended the full adherence to COVID-19 regulations. “ZEC recorded voters’ names for contact tracing purposes at entry to the polling stations. Voters were generally skeptical of this exercise as they were not sure how this information would be used. For example, a 60-year-old couple in Ward 1, Victoria Falls, refused to vote as they did not want their names to be recorded.

“… There was lack of consistence of checking voters’ temperatures as some polling stations did not have functioning thermometers. In Ward 2 Marondera East, Red Cross effectively ensured COVID-19 precautionary measures were respected. COVID-19 awareness was also reported to have been done in Murombedzi Ward 4 where the Ministry of Health and Child Care had erected a COVID-19 vaccination station.”

Independent Observers

The ZCC observers noted the presence of other independent, local, and international observers such as Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Election Resource Center, Catholic Commission of Justice and Peace, Habakkuk Trust as well as some Embassies.

“It is commendable that the ZEC accredited independent election observers as this enhances transparency and also confidence building in election management.”

Election Violence/Hate Speech

The pre-election period, according to ZCC, was characterised by sporadic political violence. “For example, in Kwekwe, one life was lost and 17 people were injured at a political rally[6] on 27 February 2022. Another political activist, Godfrey Karembera was physically assaulted allegedly by law enforcement agents. One National Assembly candidate, Zivai Mhetu of Epworth Constituency was physically assaulted a few days before the by-elections.

“The ZCC together with the ZHOCD met the Vice President General (Retired) Dr Constantino G.D.N Chiwenga regarding these violent cases on the 25th of March 2022. During the early days of the campaign period, political leaders were promoting peace. However, as the nation drew closer to the by-elections, the Church noted with great concern the sudden change of language, as political leaders now resorted to the use of hate speech during campaigns. The Church observed that these verbal threats heightened tensions and in some cases they encouraged violent actions.”

ZCC Observers

ZCC trained and deployed 250 Ecumenical Election Observers in all 10 provinces to observe the by-elections. The by-elections were conducted to fill the 28 National House of Assembly and 122 local authority vacancies that had resulted largely from the recalls by the Movement for Democratic Change-Tsvangirai (MDC- T) led by Senator Douglas Mwonzora and a few that had resulted from deaths and reassignments of the incumbents.

During its observation, the ZCC was specifically looking at the levels of peace and tolerance, informed participation, credibility of the Elections management body and the independence of state security agents. For the ZCC, this election observation was also a test-run for our observation of the 2023 Harmonized Elections together with other members of the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations.

Data for this report was collected by 250 (95 males, 155 females and of these 71 were youths) observers. Of these, 232 had initially been trained as Long-Term Observers who produced three long-term observation reports between January and March 2022. A week before the by-elections, they were then trained as Short-Term Observers with an extra number being drawn from the ZCC Local Ecumenical Fellowships, Heads of Denominations and the Secretariat to make it 250.

For the long-term observation, the observers focused on the general political environment, voter education and registration and other critical developments that have direct implications on elections. The observers were deployed in the wards and constituencies where by-elections were to be held.

While the ZCC used ward-based short-term observation approach in the rest of the provinces on Election Day, 13 polling station-based observers were deployed in 7 wards (by-elections were only held in those wards) of Mashonaland Central[3]. Unfortunately, 11 more polling stations were added by ZEC to make them 24, two days before the elections, hence, the ZCC maintained its initial number of 13 observers.

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