Harare—Early results of the 23-24 August elections showed Zanu PF leading in the parliamentary race, but marathon reports by observer missions highlighted serious gaps in the management of the polls.
Results emerging on Friday indicated that Zanu PF—in power since independence in 1980—was rushing for at least a simple majority of the 209 parliamentary constituencies that were contested while its main rival, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), trailed well below 100 seats.
The outstanding constituency will be contested in a by-election following the death of one of the candidates ahead of the polls.
Several international election observer missions organised press conferences from morning into afternoon and presented preliminary reports that exposed deficits in the conduct of the elections by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
The SADC Election Observer Mission (SEOM) grabbed the limelight when it broke with tradition and presented a scathing report that drew the anger of the Zimbabwean government and Zanu PF.
Previously, the southern African body tended to be diplomatic and avoided outright criticism of the conduct of elections in Zimbabwe.
The second day of voting was a spillover due to delays in dispatching voting materials to some polling centres.
In its preliminary report, SEOM—which is chaired by Nevers Mumba, a former deputy president in Zambia—noted that, in some cases, polling standards “fell short” of local laws and SADC principles and guidelines on elections.
“The mission noted that some aspects of the harmonised elections fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act, and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections,” said Mumba.
He was appointed by the current SADC chair of the organ on Defence, Politics and Security Cooperation, Hakainde Hichilema, the Zambian president who, having emerged from opposition politics where he suffered persecution, is considered critical of harsh- hand politics in the region.
The mission commended the calm that generally prevailed in the run-up to and during the elections and saluted the police for maintaining peace and order, but raised “critical issues” relating to the management of the polls on voting days.
The dark corners
It cited the late arrival of ballot papers “and poor administration at some polling stations” among the blights on the elections.
The delays forced an unquantified number of voters to give up but, according to SEOM, others waited until voting materials arrived and voted.
Ironically, ZEC had assured the mission prior to election time that voting materials were ready and available for all polling centres.
“The subsequent information from ZEC that they did not have adequate ballot papers has the unfortunate effect of creating doubts about the credibility of this electoral process,” noted Mumba.
The mission also noted that the voters’ roll was not available at some of the polling stations, names of voters were missing or mismatched, there were no provisions for people with disabilities at some centres and polling officers did not verify whether or not people had already voted at other centres.
The SEOM, however, remarked that there were no irregularities at 97 percent of the stations it observed throughout the 10 administrative provinces, with voting proceeding orderly at 95 percent of the centres.
The mission singled out a Zanu PF-affiliated organisation, the Forever Associates of Zimbabwe Trust (FAZ) for “conducting a country-wide exercise of electoral intimidation” when it attempted to take down voters’ personal details.
The FAZ is reportedly coordinated by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and funded from government coffers.
The following are some of the concerns that the SEOM noted.
- Alleged gerrymandering by ZEC during the delimitation process
- Violation of the freedom of assembly that resulted in the banning or disruption of some CCC rallies and, on the other side, apparent favouritism that benefited Zanu PF
- Amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act that restricted freedom of expression
- “Unprecedented amount of litigation” relating to candidate nomination
- Steep nomination fees
- Biased judiciary
- Intimidation of voters
- Biased election coverage by state-controlled media
The European Union, African Union-Comesa and Carter Centre observer missions also presented their reports that echoed findings made by SEOM.
The EU Observer Mission (EUOM) complained that it had encountered problems in accessing official bodies and was, at one time, a victim of negative disinformation meant to discredit it, after the official media claimed that it had bribed journalists.
The Carter Centre and the EUOM also noted the arrest of 39 officers affiliated to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Election Resource Centre (ERC) for allegedly gathering voting data with the intention of announcing election results.
The Carter Centre said the 2023 elections “took place in a restricted political environment” while “the administration of the elections lacked independence and transparency”.
It bemoaned the fact that the Zimbabwean parliament failed to effect electoral reforms “and instead adopted legislation targeting the country’s vibrant civil society”.
Zanu PF and the Zimbabwean government reacted angrily to the SEOM report.
Justice minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, who is also the chief election agent for Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Zanu PF presidential candidate, convened an evening media conference where he described the SADC report as of no consequence.
He accused Mumba, the chair, of advancing a personal agenda and claimed that some members of the SEOM team he spoke to were against the contents of the report.
“We believe that this (the SEOM report) is the position of one person (Mumba). It must be known that we hold our elections not in accordance with SADC guidelines, but our own laws.
“Those are just guidelines and observers are observers. SADC heads of state can’t meet and table such a report. It would be an attack on each other’s sovereignty,” said the minister.