Regional Civil Society Solidarity Observer Mission on Zim Election

zimbabwesq

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and the Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum, hosted by the ACTION Support Centre in South Africa, deployed a Regional Observer Mission composed of representatives of Civil Society Organizations, the Ecumenical Sector and Social Movements, to the 31st July 2013 harmonized election

The mission, whose participants were drawn from South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Namibia observed the environment in the run up to the election, the voting process, closure of polling stations and in some instances counting. The mission covered urban, peri-­urban and rural areas. The mission’s observations are premised on Zimbabwe’s compliance or lack thereof, with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

Electoral systems are vulnerable to abuse and manipulation. This is why the guidelines, principles and rules that are developed at national, Regional and Continental levels are so important, and why they need to be used as the benchmark against which pronouncements on the validity of elections are made. In the case of Zimbabwe, the greatest area of concern is that the voters’ roll was not prepared in time, or made equally accessible to all parties. The observations of this mission, and of others who have commented on the process are that it is this element of the Zimbabwean electoral process that was used to manipulate the voting outcomes.

Closer scrutiny by this observer team, and those we worked with on the ground, point to the disenfranchisement of a significant sector of the voting public, and a number of discrepancies in the voting procedures that were supposed to be followed to ensure a free and fair election. While these voters roll issues remain unresolved it is both inappropriate and incorrect to declare that the announced outcomes of the voting process reflect the will of the people. As Zimbabweans work through these concerns regional and international solidarity will remain critically important.

The mission observed the following:

1. Presence of Police Officers at Polling Stations: The mission observed that there were an abnormally high number of police officers on duty inside and outside poling stations. In a country where policing is associated with human rights abuses, the environment in most cases was highly intimidating. At some polling stations such as Bindura Primary School in Mashonaland Central, police officers were running a parallel register of statistics of voters and observer visits, duties solely bestowed upon the presiding officer. This was blatant interference with the electoral duties bestowed upon ZEC officials.

2. Linked to one (1) above, the mission observed that there were a number of police officers voting at most poling stations. When asked to clarify this, polling officers at most polling stations visited could not answer satisfactorily as to whether they had a foolproof mechanism to check whether or not the uniformed forces had not previously voted under the special vote.

3. Use of Voter Registration Slips: The mission observed that an abnormally high number of people voted using vote registration slips. These slips were observed to be inconsistent in the type of material used. Tied to this, the mission noted with grave concern an incident in Hatfield constituency where at least 20 fake voter slips were recovered from people who intended to use them for voting, as confirmed by ZEC at a press conference held on the 1st of August 2013. The mission noted with concern that in some cases voting slips were given back to voters after casting their votes without ZEC having recorded the details of the slips. The mission was greatly concerned by the possibility of the election having been manipulated through a porous voter slips system which may have been abused by certain political parties.

4. Use of Private Property as Polling Stations: The mission noted with serious concern the use of private property as polling stations. A case in point was the use of a milling shop: Pote Store, 5km from Shamva, along the Shamva-­â€ Bindura Road in Mashonaland Central Province.

The use of non-­â€ neutral polling stations compromises the freedom of choice as the environment may be intimidating to some voters.

5. High number of Assisted Voters: The mission observed that there was an abnormally high number of assisted voters at most polling stations, raising fears of a well planned intimidation mechanism which compromised freedom of choice.

6. Voters Turned Away: The mission observed that there was a very high number of potential voters who were turned away for various reasons including their names not appearing on the voters roll, appearing at wrong polling stations and voters not having correct identification documents. Mission noted that this points to ZEC not having done enough civic education to prepare voters for this election. This was compounded by the fact that ZEC and the Registrar of Voters failed to avail the voters roll for inspection by voters ahead of the crucial election.

7. Bussing of Voters: The mission observed that in some constituencies, voters were seen in buses and lorries being ferried to and from polling stations. Cases in point are in Mazowe (Mashonaland Central Province) and Mt Pleasant (Harare Metropolitan Province) constituencies. The mission is gravely concerned by the fact that busing of voters by some candidates points to the possibility of a scam where people who were not registered and or not resident in certain wards ended up voting in those wards, in blatant violation of Zimbabwe electoral laws provision of a strictly ward based voting system.

8. Lack of Facilities and Attention to Special Needs Voters: The mission observed that at most polling stations there were no facilities and requisite attention given to people needing special attention such as women and people living with disability. This discourages voters as some give up while some become disinterested in future elections.

9. Voters Roll Unavailability: The mission was seriously concerned by the fact that the voters’ roll was only made available to political parties in hard copy 24 hours prior to voting. The electronic voters roll was not made available. Mission is further concerned by the fact that there was no meaningful, if any, voters’ roll inspection by stakeholders ahead of the election. The failure by ZEC and the Registrar of Voters to avail the voters’ roll on time has fueled allegations of the election being manipulated through the voters roll.

10. Voting Day Environment: The mission observed that in most places, the situation was relatively calm. The mission however also observed that in some parts of the country, particularly rural areas visited, the environment was tense.

Conclusion:

Using the above, and information from fellow Zimbabwean Civil Society Organizations who monitored the pre-­â€ election environment for a longer period, the Observer Mission came to the conclusion that these elections were heavily compromised and fall far short of meeting the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.

The elections also fail the test when subjected to the provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. Although the environment was calm, resembling peace, the overall electoral processes and environment were not conducive for the conduct of a free, fair and credible election.

As a regional civil society movement, that seeks to build a culture of people-­ to- people solidarity, we will strategise together to find more effective forms of ensuring that where people in positions of power seek to marginalize or disregard the democratic will of citizens in the region, the political costs for those in power make it impossible and unfeasible for them to do so. This will require a strengthening of our regional efforts, and tighter more coordinated forms of regional action.

 

 

 

 

 

Sipho Theys

SAFIS Coordinator

South Africa Forum for International Solidarity

Secretariat hosted by HURISA

4th floor Elephant house,

105 Market street,

Johannesburg

Tel:   +27 (11) 333 1730

Fax:  +27 (11) 333 1735

Mob: +27 825000811

Email: sipho@safis.org.za

Web: www.safis.org.za