Former top US diplomat for Africa picks flaws in Zimbabwe elections, but accepts president

WASHINGTON — The joint American International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI), operating as the Zimbabwe International Election Observation Mission (ZIEOM), has reiterated that Zimbabwe’s recent poll, while a significant improvement from past elections, fell short of reaching an acceptable level.

In a recent statement released after a follow up post-election visit to Zimbabwe, the ZIEOM said Zimbabwe has not yet “demonstrated that it has established a tolerant, democratic culture that enables the conduct of elections in which parties are treated equitably, and citizens can cast their vote freely.”

The statement further states that consequently, “Zimbabwe’s democratic trajectory is not certain, and the international community should remain vigilant and engaged in supporting the people’s call for a genuine transition.”

The joint mission noted improvements such as a public commitment to credible elections, advances in the political climate, welcoming of international observers, and a fresh voter’s roll. However, it concluded that these were not sufficient to bring confidence in elections.

The latest statement comes after a six-person delegation was dispatched to Harare from September 4-8, 2018. This post-election delegation was co-led by Ambassador Johnnie Carson and Constance Newman both former US Assistant Secretaries of State for African Affairs. The delegation also comprised John Tomaszewski, IRI Regional Director for Africa, Richard L. Klein, NDI Senior Advisor for Electoral Processes, Jessica Keegan, ZIEOM Co-Director, and Amanda Domingues, ZIEOM Inclusion Analyst.

Blessing Zulu of Voice Of America’s Zimbabwe Service reached out to Ambassador Carson to elaborate on some of the ZIEOM’s last findings, and what the country needs to do to raise its credibility in terms of elections.

Blessing Zulu (BZ): Ambassador Carson, what were some of the findings in the latest report that you have released on Zimbabwe, post elections?

Ambassador Johnnie Carson (Amb. Carson): Thank you Blessing for this opportunity to talk a little bit about the report. First of all, let me say that our final report has not yet come out and won’t come out until sometime around October.

This last visit was a follow up visit to look at one of the last aspects of the election. We always look at the election in four parts: one, the pre-election environment; the events on Election Day; the announcement of the elections, and also, the final phase, the acceptance of the process by winner and loser. We were looking at the last phases of this election.

Some of the things we’ve observed, and we continue to observe is that clearly there were some aspects of the election that were significant improvements over previous elections in Zimbabwe, but there were also some aspects of the election which did not come up to what we would regard as acceptable level.

Things that we continue to worry about and we note in our reports … I think it’s important for the Zimbabwe Election Commission to improve of its standards and to ensure that its elections are seen by the public as being credible. I think it’s also important that a number of actions be taken to ensure that the chiefs and traditional leaders are not engaging in partisan politics.

We think that it’s also important for the government and the ruling party not to use food aid and agricultural inputs to sway voters to support their candidates. And it’s important to continue to ensure that government resources are not deployed on behalf of individual candidates.

It’s also very important that people know that they have a right to peacefully assemble and protest, and it’s important for security forces not to use excessive force in putting down public or maintaining public order. All these things are important.

It is also important to ensure that women are more included in the political process. We’ve noticed that the number of women elected to the parliament and participating in party activities has declined. It’s important that the 51% of Zimbabweans who are women, be more included in the political process.

As I said before, we do look at elections as a four part process. There were clearly some improvements in this election that did not exist in the two previous elections, but this election is taking place after some 18-years of political repression, in which the opposition and opposition politicians were not operating on a level playing field.

And while there was clearly an opening in the political space and on election day, a very, very large turnout of over 80%, participating in a peaceful electoral process, all of these things are good, but there remain a number of concerns which continue to be out there, about the overall process.

BZ: So in this last trip did you manage to meet all the key stakeholders?

Amb. Carson: We met with members of the opposition, we met with dozens of civil society leaders, from probably 10 or 11 different civil society groups. We met individuals who held senior positions in Zanu PF. We did not unfortunately meet with anyone from the ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission), we had hoped to meet with individuals from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission but we were unable to do so. We met with individuals from the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, had very good meeting with them. But we had meetings with a wide variety of key individuals across the political spectrum, from government officials, individuals who were part of the past government, who are part of the new government, as well as opposition leaders, civil society and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission.

BZ: But is it not problematic Ambassador that the opposition MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa has not conceded defeat?

Amb. Carson: Let me say that the president (Emmerson Mnangagwa) has been confirmed by the ZEC as the president of the country, and the (Constitutional) court case that was lodged to protest that victory was rejected by the judges. The president is the president of the country.

BZ: And you also say in this statement that the international community should remain vigilant and engaged in supporting the people’s call for a genuine transition. How can the international community assist?

Amb. Carson: The international community should continue to encourage the Zimbabwean Election Commission to improve its management of elections, to increase its respect and credibility among the community, it should continue to encourage that all the rules and regulations around elections be properly carried out, and that there should be greater civic and voter education, there should be continued effort to ensure that women are allowed to participate more significantly in the electoral process, that traditional leaders not be allowed to engage in politics, that the media should be open and fair and not biased toward one side, and that the international community can continue to encourage Zimbabwe to make further progress in its democratisation and political openness.

BZ: From what you have observed so far, although the final report will be coming, do you think ZIDERA (Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act of 2018) should be scrapped as what the Harare government is calling for. That ties with Washington must be normalised.

Amb. Carson: That is a decision that is going to be made by the (U.S.) Department of State, that is not a decision, not an issue which we are directly concerned.

BZ: And you also wrote in the statement that those who seek to establish a democratic Zimbabwe will have to unite that country and find a way to work effectively with the political opposition and civil society. How best can this be done?

Amb. Carson: It should be done through dialogue and that dialogue is done by both sides, both by the ruling party and the government and by the opposition as well. It is incumbent on both sides to enter into the kind of dialogue that will promote the country’s democratic principles and values.

BZ: And lastly, have you communicated this latest position with the Harare authorities?

Amb. Carson: Yes, this document is a public document. It is in the hands of officials in Zimbabwe, I am sure that it has been seen by many individuals in the country, both inside and outside of the government. It is a widely publicised document.

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