Harare—Contrary to accusations by the ruling Zanu PF, senior government officials and other critics from within Zimbabwe and abroad, the SADC Election Observation Mission (SEOM) did not overstep its mandate, says Veritas, a local legal think tank.
Last Friday, the SEOM chair, Nevers Mumba, a Zambian vice president during the late Levi Mwanawasa administration, released the mission’s preliminary report which noted that some aspects of the 23-24 August general elections fell short of the provisions of the Zimbabwean constitution, the Electoral Act and SADC principles and guidelines relating to democratic elections.
The mission also pointed out that some stakeholders were concerned that the amended Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act—now commonly referred to as the Patriot Act—violated freedom of expression as enshrined in Section 61 of the constitution.
It was gazetted on 14 July 2023, just over a month before the elections.
While there are several amendments to the law, government critics have paid particular attention to the sections that prohibit citizens or permanent residents from participating in meetings perceived to plan foreign military interventions or the overthrow of the government, or at which sanctions or trade embargoes against Zimbabwe are allegedly mooted.
These parts of the amendments have been viewed as too vague and deliberately meant to target activists Zanu PF and government critics involved in bona fide engagements with foreign institutions or agencies deemed to be critical of the Zanu PF government.
Violations of the new provisions are treated as treason, subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to 10 years, while permanent residents can have their citizenship terminated.
The SEOM report immediately drew angry criticism from different quarters, including president-elect, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has just renewed his tenure through the polls even though the main opposition, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), insists the polls were a “gigantic fraud”.
In a televised speech last weekend, Mnangagwa said: “I am aware that some observer missions went beyond their call of duty and began interrogating legislation passed by our parliament … I don’t think it is in the mandate of election observers to interrogate institutions of a sovereign government.”
He spoke after his chief election agent and the outgoing Justice minister, Ziyambi Ziyambi, as well as senior government and Zanu PF officials made the same allegation against the mission on Friday.
Well within boundaries
However, Veritas insisted in its latest analysis that the SEOM acted within its mandate as specified by the SADC election guidelines and principles.
“The SADC Electoral Observation Mission was well within its mandate in assessing and criticising Zimbabwe’s electoral laws and in recommending reforms,” remarked Veritas.
“If government spokespersons do not like those criticisms and recommendations, they are entitled to say so and to rebut them if they can; but if they have any knowledge of or respect for our country’s obligations under the SADC Treaty they should not claim that the mission exceeded its mandate,” added the think tank.
Several articles under the guidelines and principles, Veritas pointed out, empower the SEOM to assess adherence to the constitution and laws that relate to elections.
Article 11.3.2 of the guidelines empowers the SADC poll mission to assess whether or not a country being observed has sufficient legal and constitutional frameworks that guarantee election-related human rights.
Article 13.2.3 directs SEOM to assess “the structure and model of the electoral system” as it relates to the electoral body (the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the Electoral Act and civil as well as political rights.
In addition, Article 11.3.6 empowers SADC observers to review delimitation of polling boundaries to establish if it was done in accordance with the laws of the country being observed.
During polling, the mission must observe and note the voting and ballot counting processes and election-related rights.
All these aspects are reflected in the SEOM report.
The grey areas
Besides noting concerns relating to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the mission also noted the following concerns from stakeholders and through direct observation at the polling stations that it deployed its members to:
- Delays in dispatching ballots to several polling centres in urban areas, particularly Harare and Bulawayo
- Unavailability of the voters’ roll at some of the centres
- Missing names of voters at some stations
- Voter intimidation by Zanu PF-affiliated groups
- Alleged gerrymandering by ZEC during the delimitation process and excessive voter allocations to some constituencies
- 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
- “Unprecedented amount of litigation” relating to candidate nomination
- Steep nomination fees
- Biased judiciary
- Intimidation of voters
- Biased election coverage by state-controlled media
Several other observer missions that include the European Union, African Union and COMESA, Carter House and Commonwealth made similar observations.
The Zimbabwean government has since complained in writing to SADC.
Meanwhile, a fresh government gazette has upheld the disputed results of the elections and Mnangagwa is set to be inaugurated soon even though CCC says it wants a re-run of the elections.