IN its long-awaited report on Zimbabwe’s July 31 elections which has just been released, the African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) remarkably steered away from declaring the elections free, fair or credible, choosing instead to say the polls were “professionally and successfully” conducted.
The country’s opposition maintains the poll result was not a genuine reflection of the people’s will owing to systematic rigging and widespread voter disenfranchisement, among other reasons.
The AU observation report, however, lists a plethora of shortcomings in the electoral process and gives recommendations on how the country should hold future elections.
The report was based on findings by the AU’s Long Term Observers (LTO) who were in the country between June 15 and August 14, while the AUEOM observed the elections between July 21 and August 6. The AUEOM was supported by experts from the AU Commission, Pan African Parliament and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.
On its pre-election findings, the AUEOM noted that the principles enshrined in Zimbabwe’s constitution were in accordance with the AU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa, and hailed the restoration of voting rights to “aliens”, the promotion of the participation of women and the representation of persons with disabilities, but said preparing ballots in braille for persons with visual impairment would have improved the situation.
AUOEM noted reservations by several players on the impartiality of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) secretariat, although it said a cross-section of Zimbabweans had confidence in the Zec chairperson (Justice Rita Makarau) and commissioners.
On voter registration, the AUEOM said although the process was peaceful and “largely orderly”, it was beset by many shortcomings.
“While acknowledging the increased number of registered voters from 5,2 million to 6,4 million, as reported by Zec, the AUEOM noted that thousands more Zimbabweans were unable to register due to the expiry of the 30-day prescription period.
“The AUEOM also noted complaints of exclusion by previously disenfranchised Zimbabweans whose citizens’ rights were restored by the constitution, about the relatively short timeframe in which they were required to regularise their citizenship and registration status, although the extent of this exclusion could not be determined at this point by From Page the AUEOM.”
It also noted that there was inadequate civic and voter education despite the fact that Zimbabwe’s legislative provisions allowed for civil society members designated by Zec.
The AUEOM said the special vote was characterised by logistical and management challenges that denied 26 160 people the right to vote. It, however, said the special vote was in response to the AU Principles Governing Democratic Elections.
“The AUEOM was of the view that the pre-registration process might have benefited greatly from cross-sectoral collaboration between Zec and other actors permitted by law to undertake these exercises.”
The mission also said Zimbabwean media was highly polarised, but singled out the public broadcaster which has a central role in elections in terms of the AU Charter and the Zimbabwean constitution.
“In this regard, the AUEOM noted that the national broadcaster (ZBC) tended to provide live and in-depth coverage largely to a single political party (Zanu PF).”
The AU body was disturbed by several other issues, among them inspection of the voters’ roll, printing of ballot papers, high incidence of voters referred to the command centre, late publication of the final list of polling stations and a high number of assisted voters.
The mission said while Sections 20 and 21 of the Electoral Act required Zec to provide a copy of the voters’ roll within a reasonable time, the final voters’ roll was made publicly available two days before the election — “rather late for meaningful inspection and verification by voters, parties and candidates to take place”.
The mission said the Registrar-General of Voters (RGV) should have publicly communicated the reasons for the non-availability of the roll to ease anxieties that have consistently been expressed by stakeholders throughout the election period. It also raised concerns on the duplication of voters’ names.
“Given the strategic importance of a voters’ roll to conduct a transparent electoral process, it was the AUEOM’s view that the RGV and Zec should have collaborated to ensure that all stakeholders were timeously and regularly updated on the constraints and challenges relating to the roll; and efforts being made to rectify them,” reads the report.
Despite assertions by the RGV that hard copies of the voters’ roll were availed to all political parties, other than one political party, AUEOM observers found no evidence that hard copies were generally available to all who required them and who by law should have them.
The AUEOM said the printing of 8,7 million ballot papers, which was 35% more than the number of registered voters, was higher than the international best practice of exceeding the number of ballots by between five and 10%. This raised concerns on how unused ballot papers were accounted for.
The mission also noted that a significant number of local government ballot papers were not serialised while also expressing concern over the high incidence of voters referred to command centres and those assisted to vote, citing Muzarabani in Mashonaland Central as an example.
“The late publication of the final list of polling stations, barely 48 hours to the opening of polls, may have contributed significantly to the high number of voters who were turned away for being at wrong polling stations,” noted the AUEOM.
The observer mission recommended that there should be “greater transparency on, and adequate provisions of logistical and resources to Zec for organising elections”.