Why Zim poll observers dodged the ‘fair’ mantra

WERE the July 31 elections in Zimbabwe fair? Only the Constitutional Court (Concourt) and Zanu PF-controlled Herald newspaper seem able to give a definitive answer to this question — not, however, through having undertaken a detailed analysis of the electoral conditions and process, but, in the case of the Herald, by attributing statements to this effect to various observer groups that did not, in fact, make them.

Derek Matyszak

And in so doing, the propaganda tool which the Zanu PF spin doctors have found so effective — repeating a lie so often that it becomes accepted wisdom — has once again been deployed.

At the time of writing, the latest such instance appeared in the Herald of October 18, where it stated that the polls “were certified by Sadc, African Union, Comesa, African Carribean (sic) and Pacific countries, among others, as free and fair”.

In fact, none of these Election Observer Missions appears to have been able to say anything definitive about Zimbabwe’s elections at all, let alone that they were “fair”:

Sadc has only issued a preliminary report awaiting “the final report”;

the African Union likewise has only issued a preliminary report, stating (falsely) that a “detailed final report” will be published on its website “within a two-month timeframe”;

Comesa issued its “preliminary findings” with no indication that a final report would be produced;

and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states issued a skimpy 200-word “press release”, and, revealing a remarkable reluctance to venture far from Harare, stated that they had visited Harare urban, Harare rural and Goromonzi polling stations (sic) and that their “comments are based on what (they) actually observed during (their) visits to these polling stations”.

When Shakespeare has Enobarbus praise Cleopatra’s great beauty, the eulogy has that much more impact coming from a renowned misogynist rather than a sycophantic admirer who might be expected to say such things. In the same vein, had Western nations thus been allowed to observe an election with which even they could not find fault, a report that the polls met the generally accepted standard of being “free, fair and credible” may have been unassailable.

As it was, the observer missions were cherry-picked by Zanu PF. The converse thus resulted. Furthermore, in a trial court where adverse evidence is given by one’s own witness, it is deemed that much more credible precisely because of its source, while favourable evidence is treated with some scepticism for exactly the same reason.

In an attempt to salvage any last vestiges of credibility they retained, none of the observer missions listed by the Herald, in fact, had the temerity to pronounce Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections as “fair”. The term was studiously, and in the case of Sadc, expressly avoided.

Aside from the brief press release by the ACP, the other reports, with unusual disapprobation, noted the unfair media environment, the remarkable number of people turned away and assisted during the poll, the astounding failure to comply with the law and late release of the voters’ roll and the excessive number of ballot papers printed. Sadc thus announced that it “reserved” judgment on the “fairness” of the poll until its yet-to-be-produced final report.

All four of these observer missions thus axed the word “fair” from their pronouncements on the election.

But rather than leaving a gaping hole and concluding that the elections were “free and credible”, it was decided to insert the word “peaceful” as a substitute, so that we were handed the memorable phrase “free, peaceful and generally credible” thus attempting to preserve the iambic pentameter, so that the phrase at least sounded right, even if it obviously was not.

If an election is free, then it must have been peaceful. “Peaceful” is a subset of free and it adds nothing to include it in the observation.

But the difficulty for these observers is that it is patently obvious that an election cannot be pronounced as credible until the issue of fairness has been resolved.

They cannot even be announced as “generally credible” until the degree of unfairness has been examined. If fraud, a subset of fairness, has taken place, the (in)credibility of the election will be directly proportional to the extent of the fraud. It certainly seemed necessary to investigate whether any electoral fraud took place.

President Robert Mugabe supposedly garnered nearly 1,1 million more votes than he had in March 2008. Even in a well-functioning democracy, where a previously losing candidate were to increase his vote tally by nearly 110%, eyebrows would be raised. Combine this with the fact that the circumstances were such that, either by accident or design, the door was wide open for multiple voting to take place, that is:

An examination of the electronic roll as at the end of May 2013 showed the voters’ roll to be massively inflated. An inflated roll helps conceal multiple voting as it ensures that there will not be more votes cast in a ward than there are registered voters.

Furthermore, during the computerised analysis some 300 000 persons had been entered more than once on the roll. These entries could not have been simple clerical errors as all instances the national identification numbers of each duplicate had been generated in accordance with the required statutory formula, differing only by a single digit.

These multiple entries were disproportionately found in Bulawayo, Matabeleland North and South provinces.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has not responded to a request to provide an innocent explanation for these apparently fraudulent entries or indicated whether the problem was rectified.

Each duplicate entry would allow a voter to vote twice.

Against an international norm of 10%, 35% more ballot papers were printed than there are voters on even the inflated roll. This ensured that if an “unexpected” number of voters arrived at a single polling station, there would be sufficient ballot papers to accommodate them.
Voters whose names were not on the roll were allowed to vote using voter registration slips.

Election officials were thus unable to guard against multiple voting by checking to see whether the names of these voters had been crossed off the roll.

During the elections, an individual was allegedly found with a large bag of voter registration slips which were being issued to Zanu PF supporters.

Inadequate steps were taken to ensure that apparent members of the police force who cast a special vote in mid-July did not vote a second time.

The number of police officers granted special votes increased from 4 350 in 2008 to some 63 268, about 20 000 more members than that which former finance minister claimed was the establishment of the Zimbabwe Republic Force, and which was stated to be the entire police force, and not merely those who would be absent from their constituencies on polling day, as the law required.

Less sympathetic observers would certainly have noted these aspects of the electoral process and suggested that further investigation was necessary.

Indeed, as Botswana rightly pointed out before succumbing to political pressure, an audit of the results needed to take place.
This in turn requires an examination of electoral material, which Zec and the Registrar-General (one must presume not coincidentally) have taken great pains to ensure is not, to the extent of refusing to release the electronic copy of the voters’ roll in violation of the Electoral Act.

Some select data has been obtained. For example, Ward 9 of Hwange Local Board has, according to the 2012 census, an adult population of 488, but recorded a voter turnout of 2 082 people or 1 272% of the eligible voter population and has 3 232 registered voters on the roll for this ward.

In Mt Pleasant, some 4 080 people were added to the voters’ roll in the last month of voter registration, with 1 361 of these with addresses as either army barracks or police depots.

The inability to access and examine all this material may well be why none of the observer missions have been able to produce their “final reports” and why, contrary to the mantra of the Herald, none have yet pronounced the elections as “fair”.

Matyszak is a senior researcher with the Research and Advocacy Unit.