By Reason Razao | Senior Reporter
Zimbabwe’s administration of the elections lacked independence and transparency in key areas and the polls happened in a restrictive political environment, a preliminary observer report by the Carter Center has said.
Zimbabwe held its general elections on August 23 and international observer missions including the Carter Centre have dismissed the credibility of the polls.
Echoing sentiments shared earlier by SADC, the African Union, European Union and CommonWealth, Carter Center said several critical technical aspects of the process were poorly implemented, reducing the transparency and credibility of the elections.
In its assessment of the pre-election period, the Center said parliament did not pass important electoral reforms and instead adopted legislation targeting the country’s vibrant civil society, effectively silencing reform advocates and political opponents in the months leading up to the polls.
The run-up to the general election was characterised by repressive measures through State apparatus which stifled civic space while clamping down on opposition gatherings.
As a result, the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) had over 100 of its rallies banned by the police.
“On election day, Carter Center observers reported that the voting process ran smoothly at most polling stations; however, in some areas, particularly in Harare, Bulawayo, and Manicaland, polling stations opened late – in some cases more than 11 hours late.
“Although the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission extended voting hours, and the government officially proclaimed Aug. 24 as an additional election day, many stakeholders expressed concerns that logistical delays may have depressed voter turnout in those areas,” said Attahiru Muhammadu Jega, head of the Carter Centre observer mission.
In terms of legal and electoral framework, Jega said the requirement of advance notice to hold a gathering or demonstration limited the right to assembly while the Patriotic Act governed liberties to free expression.
Further, The Carter Center raised concerns over the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) centralization of key election processes such as regulating and supervising the election process, registering voters, delimiting constituencies, designing, printing, and distributing ballot papers, approving the form of, and procure, ballot boxes, establish and operate polling centers and stations; and accredit both citizen and international observers, media, and party agents.
“The administration of elections lacked transparency in key areas, as the ZEC did not provide critical information in a timely manner during various stages of the process, which undermines public and stakeholder confidence in its management of electoral processes.”
“In addition, the restrictions and limitations on the work of election observers, including the late provision or denial of accreditation, severely hindered important independent transparency efforts.”
According to Jega while ZEC conducted voter education and publicly invited civil society organizations, private voluntary organizations, and faith-based organizations to apply for ZEC accreditation as voter educators in May, some interlocutors reported that they were only granted approval in August, just days before the election.
This, according to the Carter Centre, prevented effective and timely voter education by a range of qualified organizations.
The observer mission also raised red flags over voter registration saying that ZEC registered 451,811 new voters and transferred 191,738 registered voters to new locations prior to the elections.
“Although the voters’ roll was posted for inspection, public confidence in it remained low because of inaccuracies and errors. There were many reports during the inspection period of voters finding themselves through the SMS system but not on the physical voter roll.
“ZEC did not provide electoral stakeholders with a copy of the final voter roll that could be easily reviewed or audited,” the Carter Centre said.
The USA-based election observers added that prior to the sitting of the Nomination Court there were short notices by ZEC that hindered the smooth flow of the selection process.
“The ZEC issued directives on how the party lists should be structured just one day before the court, which constrained the ability of some parties to provide adequate numbers of women for provincial council party lists.
“Parties were allowed to resubmit lists. but this caused delays. Late decisions on these cases meant that ballots were printed late, which the ZEC cited as the reason for late delivery of ballots in some areas.”
According to The Carter Centre, while incidents of political violence were fewer than in 2018, tensions and polarization increased in the months preceding the elections, as legislation restricting individuals’ freedoms of speech, movement, and association, such as the Criminal Law (Codification) Amendment Act, also known as the Patriotic Act, and the PVO Amendment Bill were introduced.
“While the PVO legislation has yet to become law, coupled with the Patriotic Act, its potential enactment has produced a stifling effect on Zimbabwean civil society.”
Jega also made reference to the arrest of the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) staff members and volunteers saying the move undermined the credibility of the polls.