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SADC: Zimbabwe’s Harmonized Elections Fell Short of Nation’s Constitution, Regional Body Guidelines

Election observers in Harare presenting their findings
Election observers in Harare presenting their findings

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Electoral Observation Mission says some aspects of Zimbabwe's harmonized elections fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the regional body's principles and guidelines on free and fair polls.

Some of the drawbacks cited in its preliminary election report includes lack of transparency in running and unveiling the voters’ roll to all stakeholders, skewed electoral boundary numbers, the enactment of the dreaded Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act (commonly known as the Patriotic Act), mishandling of ballot papers in two metropolitan regions and other issues.

Presenting the report, SADC team leader Nerves Mumba said there is need for Zimbabwe to follow the constitution in order to conduct free, fair and credible elections.

Mumba said, “The Mission observed that the pre-election and voting phases on 23rd to the 24th August harmonized elections were peaceful and calm. However, the mission noted that some aspects of the harmonized elections fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act and the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections of 2021.”

Mumba said the Mission “commends the people of Zimbabwe for maintaining a peaceful political environment during the pre-election period.”

The SADC team condemned ZEC for failing to provide the voters’ roll to all stakeholders and mishandling ballot papers in the opposition’s strongholds – Harare and Bulawayo.

The Mission said in order to improve perceptions among the public, political parties and candidates the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) should follow strict provisions of the constitution on transparency, access to information and unveil the voters register as prescribed in the Electoral Act.

“In order to improve perceptions amongst the public, political parties and candidates, ZEC is advised to sctrictly follow the provisions of the constitution on transparency, access to information, timeous avail the voters roll in accordance to the stipulations under the Electoral Act.”

ZANU PF immediately responded to the SADC prelimary report, noting that no nation should meddle in another country’s political affairs.

Party spokesperson, Chris Mutsvangwa, said, “ … We hear of a certain head (Mumba) of a delegation (SADC) of a certain country (Zambia) in the SADC region without prior consultation of his colleague, from sovereign states, and without giving a report back in their countries, even going back to the secretariat, because the secretariat is the collective secretariat of SADC, he decides to delve into matters that have nothing to do with his mandate.

“SADC has several committees which deal with various issues. It even has a constitutional review committee. If anyone has issues about Zimbabwean laws that is the element that can handle such issues … It is not a duty of a particular individual to arrogate to himself the role of a In another preliminary report, the European Union Election Observation Mission Zimbabwe also castigated ZEC in the manner it conduced the elections.

In its report presented by team leader, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, the EU Mission, said, “The Zimbabwean Harmonised Elections of 23 August took place in a progressively tense atmosphere in some locations due to Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) failure to provide critical electoral material, which resulted in many polling stations opening with severe delays, some late into the night and the following day.

“Voters queued for long periods of time to be able to vote, reflecting their democratic aspirations. During the election process, fundamental freedoms were increasingly curtailed, both in the passing of regressive legal changes like the patriotic provisions to the Criminal Code and by acts of violence and intimidation, which resulted in a climate of fear.”

The EU Mission further noted that the candidate registration process and political campaigns led to an environment that hampered voters from making a free and informed choice on election day.

“The election was also impacted by significant issues regarding the independence and transparency of ZEC, which could have done more to inform the public. It also missed opportunities to increase public trust in the integrity of voting and results management. Ultimately, while election day was peaceful, the election process fell short of many regional and international standards, including equality, universality, and transparency.”

It also questioned the manner in which ballot papers and voters' roll were handled by the electoral body.

"While the voting was generally assessed positively by EU EOM observers, unauthorized individuals tracked voters at nearly one-fifth of PS (polling station), potentially indicating pressure. Conditions in PS where voting continued into the night due to late openings were often inadequate. Voters’ rolls were not consistently displayed outside PS; this, coupled with insufficient information on polling locations, made it challenging for many voters to identify their designated PS. Following the count, in some instances, PS results were neither provided to party agents nor displayed at the PS. ZEC’s communication regarding the delays, its reasons, and the actual voting hours was insufficient."

Tobias Mudzingwa and Mlondolozi Ndlovu contributed to this article