Harare—The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is too compromised to ensure free, fair and credible elections, says a new report released two days to the 23 August 2023 polls.
The ZEC—one of the four constitutional commissions meant to guarantee democracy—is provided for under Section 238 of the Zimbabwean constitution and its independence is prescribed by Section 235.
The study report by the Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) is titled Umpire and Goal-keeper? Unpacking the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s Neutrality at the 2023 Elections in Zimbabwe and was publicised on Monday.
It is based on an online survey that the anti-corruption watchdog carried out recently to determine ZEC’s level of independence and the attending implications on election outcomes.
The survey sought the opinions of online visitors.
The watchdog established that the majority of the participants in the study believed that ZEC had permitted itself to be manipulated by Zanu PF, the security sector and powerful office holders in the executive arm of government.
It warned that failure to ensure the commission’s independence might lead to political instability.
“The overarching finding is that ZEC is largely ill-trusted and perceived as captured by not only the executive, but the ruling Zanu PF party and the military. In other words, ZEC fails the critical independence test.
“It is, in this sense, perceived to be captured and, therefore, partial. If no meaningful action is taken to ensure the autonomy of the commission, there is a high risk that Zimbabwe may descend into political chaos and instability because of questionable electoral processes and outcomes,” notes the report.
The specific findings of the study show that 85% of the respondents were not satisfied with the performance of ZEC.
The ACT-SA says there is an “unholy relationship” between ZEC commissioners and staff, while Zanu PF has directly and indirectly influenced the appointment of staff and commissioners.
Eighty-five percent of the respondents believed that the majority of ZEC commissioners and staff were “compromised” individuals.
In February 2018, five months before that year’s elections, Priscilla Chiuguma, who had just been appointed ZEC chair, revealed to the Justice parliamentary portfolio committee that 15 percent of the commission staff were ex-military officers, but insisted there was nothing wrong with that.
The ZEC chief executive, Utoile Silaigwana, is a former soldier.
Military, police and national intelligence personnel have over the decades played both overt and secretive roles in Zanu PF election campaign strategies.
Fifty percent of the survey participants named Chigumba as the most compromised ZEC commissioner.
She is a former judge of the High Court, a position she acquired in 2012.
While she has made milestone judgments against the sitting establishment in the past, many view her as having played a role in the alleged rigging of the 2018 elections.
All the respondents taking part in the survey believed that ZEC favoured the ruling Zanu PF and most of them were of the view that the commission’s alleged partisanship would lead to disputed elections taking place tomorrow.
“It is also noted with concern that some candidates including Douglas Mwonzora of the MDC-T pulled out of the 23rd of August 2023 election citing mismanagement by ZEC,” reads the report.
Mwonzora was the party’s presidential candidate and recently announced his withdrawal from the race, accusing ZEC of targeting and discriminating against his parliamentary candidates.
The ACT-SA urged numerous interventions to restore ZEC’s independence and public confidence in the commission.
These include the suspension “of all ZEC officials who are related to Zanu PF political elites”, adopting mechanisms that ensure that the incumbent party must not manipulate the commission and implementing in full, all the related recommendations by observer missions during previous elections.