Observers’ Role Raises Worry

ABOUT 400 Southern African Development Community (Sadc) observers arrived in Harare this week to monitor the presidential run-off that takes place next Friday. Others arrived last week.

 

Their arrival has, however, raised questions on the role they are likely to play in judging the freeness and fairness of the election that pits President Robert Mugabe and bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC.

Tsvangirai pulled the rug from under Mugabe’s feet in the first round of polling in a situation that has left the country’s sole ruler in 28 years of Independence desperate to reverse the MDC gains.

Last Friday, Mugabe declared he would not allow Tsvangirai to get away with the presidential “title” and would command his forces back to the bush to fight and reclaim Zimbabwe from colonial “puppets” — the MDC.

Said Mugabe: “We slackened our grip the last time and we now realise that there is need for us to be strong on the people or we lose out. There is no way we are going to lose this election. War veterans have been coming to ask me whether they should go back to the bush and fight to reclaim their country from these British puppets.

“I have been telling them to hold it for now and now I am saying I am prepared to order them to go into the bush and fight to safeguard our Independence and sovereignty from these puppets of the West.”

The statements come at a time when there has been an upsurge of violence in both rural and urban areas. So far, the MDC says more than 60 of its activists and officials have been killed by Zanu PF supporters and war veterans in post-election violence that has also left scores injured. Many thousands are displaced while several hundreds cannot be accounted for as a result of kidnappings.

Questions have been raised as to whether the observers would not be impaired in their poll judgement given their late arrival in the country. Commentators have said there was need for the observers to remain in the country after the announcement of the June 27 election results so as to monitor the post-results environment, given the threats Zanu PF has made against those voting for the MDC.

Some voters may have been cowed into submission by the violence that visited them in recent weeks.

The numbers of the observers have also been a talking point amongst analysts. There is a belief that 400 observers from a bloc such as Sadc is an insufficient figure to cover all polling stations countrywide. There are more than 9 000 polling stations countrywide for the presidential run-off as well as the three by-elections in Pelandaba-Mpopoma, Gwanda North, and Redcliff.

Questions have also been raised as to whether these missions have enough resources to facilitate the monitoring of the polls by the observers. The United States government last week said it was prepared to make available US$7 million if United Nations observers were to be deployed in Zimbabwe for the election.

Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said despite the lateness in their arrival, the observers would lessen the level of violence that had been unleashed on the people.

“They might be late, yes, but this should be looked at in the light of the reduction of the wave of violence against the people,” Masunungure said. “Their arrival will significantly reduce the violence that has taken place. The people of Zimbabwe reserve the right to choose the person they want to lead their country and this violence had taken away the people’s right to choose the person they want without any force and intimidation from anyone.”

On the numbers of the observers, Masunungure argued there was need for 1 000 observers to be deployed countrywide, saying 400 was far too few for such a process.

“I believe 1 000 observers will be enough to cover the country and they will be able to do the job as they are expected to,” he said. “The current figure falls far too short of what I believe are the generic requirements. What is more important is for them to be visible throughout the country and to be seen monitoring the situation on the ground.”

Another political scientist, Joseph Kurebwa, differed saying he felt the observers would have ample time to monitor the political environment before the polls.

“The purpose of the observer is to sample events before, during, and after polling. They need to appreciate the situation and that does not mean being present at all polling stations all the time,” said Kurebwa, who is known to be sympathetic to Zanu PF. “It does not suffice, however, to say that 400 observers are too little to effectively monitor the election. They have an appreciation of what the environment is like and their judgements will be based on that sample they have been getting of the current political environment.”

He added that the observers’ judgement would reflect the situation on the ground as he was of the opinion that both sides of the political divide were responsible for the violence that has erupted in most parts of the country.

“If we are to expect the observers to accuse, in their report, Zanu PF of violence, then we are demanding too much from these observers. Both the MDC and Zanu PF are not innocent victims of political violence. So these reports should cite that both the parties were violent in their campaigns and that will be what they would have truly observed on the ground,” he said.

Lovemore Madhuku, the chairperson of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), said the number of observers was not the issue, but their ability to monitor the election.

“Those that are talking of numbers are missing the point. I believe what is important now is whether these observers are able to provide confidence to the players in the election and so they can be effective in their analysis of the whole situation,” Madhuku said. “The observers do not need to be told what to look at because all the things are there for them to see. The violence is happening right under their eyes and there is no other report they can produce than the one they are seeing on a daily basis.”

Most of the observers have been holed up in city hotels where they have been booked by the respective missions from across the region as well as some internationally.

The behaviour of the observers has left many wondering whether they are in the country on serious business or are on holiday. Many appear young and inexperienced.

Commentators have wondered what reports will emerge from observers with an unproven track record in the monitoring of elections back home.

Are they for instance familiar with the Sadc Mauritius terms which require that the national electoral regulatory body (ZEC in this case) assures equal access to the public media by all parties
and chooses which observers should be invited? The state in Zimbabwe’s case has arrogated to itself the responsibility for inviting observers.

By Nkululeko Sibanda

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