ZESN speaks out on Zimbabwe elections

Below is the Zimbabwe Election Support Network executive summary of a report on the country’s July harmonised elections.

 

In terms of the Constitution and Electoral Laws of Zimbabwe, in the normal course of events, the country conducts harmonised elections every five years. Following the end of the five-year term of the government that was elected in 2013, Zimbabweans went to polls on 30 July 2018. This report presents ZESN’s observations of each sector of the electoral cycle: the pre-election, the polling, and the post-election periods. The observations were gathered through the deployment of 7240 trained observers: 210 Long Term Observers (LTOs), who primarily focused on observing and reporting on the pre and post-election periods in all the country’s 210 National Assembly constituencies from 18 May to 31 August 2018; 750 Sample Based Observers (SBOs) who observed at randomly selected polling stations on the Election Day; and 6280 Short Term Observers (STOs), at selected polling stations in every ward. The observers were provided with checklists designed to guide the collection of relevant data.

The 2018 harmonised were held in a relatively peaceful environment, a break from a past of violent and tension laden elections to which Zimbabweans had become accustomed. In general, human and political rights were respected more than in previous elections, including freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and the media. The election was also the first to feature a new presidential candidate since 1980 in the case of the Zimbabwe African Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and for the main opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change (as the MDC Alliance in this year’s election) since 2002. Mugabe resigned in the midst of an impeachment process that followed a military intervention code named “Operation Restore Legacy” in November 2017 while Tsvangirai succumbed to cancer in February 2018. An unprecedented 23 candidates participated in the 2018 presidential race; 1648 candidates from 55 political parties and three political party coalitions vied for the 210 National Assembly seats; and 6796 candidates vied for the 1958 local government (councils) positions. However, the race was essentially between ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance, which together, clearly would command the majority of votes.

Major changes also happened at the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) ahead of the election. Justice Rita Makarau resigned as Chairperson of the Commission eight months before the election, followed by then Chief Elections Officer, Constance Chigwamba three months later.

For the 2018 elections, the invitation of observers was extended to many, including previously excluded observer missions such as the European Union, National Democratic Institute (NDI), Commonwealth, and International Republican Institute (IRI).

The election was also preceded by amendments to the Electoral Act, in May 2018, which established the Electoral Court as a specialised division of the High Court and set out a new and detailed Electoral Code of Conduct for Political Parties, Candidates and other Stakeholders. In addition, the Act set a threshold of 10 %for the number of ballot papers that could be printed in excess of registered voters and specified clear timelines within which petitions and appeals lodged with the Electoral Court should be heard. However, much was omitted in the piece meal amendments, pointing to the need for comprehensive amendment of electoral law. Outstanding issues include, inter alia, the independence of ZEC, the right to vote, and procurement and printing of ballot papers.

The pre-election period also saw more visible and comprehensive Civic and Voter Education (CVE) initiatives, particularly by ZEC and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Commendably, there had been an amendment of the law to remove the requirement for the disclosure of sources of funding by CSOs and to reverse the requirement for funding for CVE to be channelled through ZEC.

A new voters’ roll was used for the elections following the Bio-metric Voters’ Registration (BVR) that was embraced for the first time in the electoral process in Zimbabwe. The BVR exercise was proclaimed, and commenced at District Centres, in September 2017. The exercise ran in four phases, from 10 October to 19 December 2017, before it was extended in a mop-up exercise between 10 January and 8 February 2018. Unfortunately, the BVR exercise was marked by misinformation and the intimidation of registrants by political actors who recorded serial numbers of registration slips under the pretext that they would be able to track voting preferences of individual voters. Despite challenges that include the proclamation of BVR dates before a voter education exercise to inform voters about the location of registration centres and the requirements needed for one to register under the BVR system; power challenges affecting the solar powered kits in a cloudy and rainy season; malfunctioning of kits, among others, the ZEC managed to register a total of 5 695 706 voters (79% of the eligible population), 3073190 of whom were women (54%) and 2 622516 (46%) men.

An analysis of the final voters’ roll revealed that the total number of registrants (5695706) was lower than both the 2012 census data and the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) 2018 projections of the voting population (18 years and above), i.e. 6805455 and 7224128, respectively. However, the total number of registrants was higher than census data in ages 40-49 years and 60-69 years, though the difference is rather insignificant. On the Final Voters’ roll (FVR), 3201447 registrants (roughly 54%) are female while 2622516 (46%) are male. The 30-34 years age group accounted for the largest total number of registrants at 781 227, followed by the 20-24 age group at 780 903 registrants. In all age groups, more women registered to vote than men. Also, there were more rural registrants than their urban counterparts, including for those aged 39 and below. While 68.2 % registered in rural areas, urban registrants accounted for 31.8% of the total registrants. The total number of urban registrants was lower than census data except for the 45-49 years age group. The audit of the voters’ roll seemed to indicate that young adults in urban areas, in particular those aged 39 and below, were under-registered compared to older generations. In rural areas, the total number of registrants was higher than census data in the 35-49 and 55-69 years age categories. About 86.3% of voters added between the release of the ‘provisional voters’ roll’ and the final voters’ roll (10159 out of 11770) were from Mashonaland West and 8.3 %of sampled respondents in the voters’ roll audit were not known at the addresses given on the voters’ roll.

A “provisional voters’ roll” was available for inspection between 19 and 29 May 2018. The ZEC set up 10 807 Inspection Centres (ICs) and 2019 registration centres. While ZEC laudably introduced innovations to enable voters to easily inspect the roll, for example the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), Short Messaging Service (SMS), and a web-based allocation, it was not possible for members of the public to scrutinize the roll. At the end of inspection, 4 770 405 people had checked their registration details, 694 030 physically went to the ICs, 819 935 used USSD *265#, and 3 256 440 verified through bulk SMSs sent out by ZEC. An exclusion list produced by ZEC had a total 11 018 registrants with the following breakdown: 5 326deceased;3 077 multiple registrations; and 2 615 people with incorrect identification numbers.

The Nomination Courts sat on 14 May 2018 to receive applications from nominees for presidential, National Assembly, and local authority elections. The nomination process was conducted in a peaceful environment and there were efforts to open on time and close late at most courts. However, despite having promised to do so, ZEC did not provide the voters’ roll before the sitting of the Nomination Courts, placing a question mark against the legality of the process. Furthermore, this affected some nominees who only realised on the day of the sitting of the courts that some of their statutorily required subscribers to their nominations did not appear to have lodged claims to register as voters. Some other nominees also had their applications rejected, either because their claims for registration could not be found or because of inconsistencies between the claimant’s details and the information held by ZEC that was being used on nomination day. In the case of aspiring councillors, some nominations were rejected as they had sought to contest the elections in wards different to those in which had sought registration.

CSOs played several roles around the electoral cycle. ZESN coordinated six clusters of CSOs that focused on Election Monitoring and Observation, CVE, Legal and Medical Services, Oversight and Advocacy, Media and Elections, and Conflict Management. Amongst the clusters’ interventions were activities relating to CVE; monitoring and observation of electoral processes and the political environment; early warning systems; advocacy initiatives on electoral reform and advocacy programmes targeting the electorate in particular women; and youth’s participation, among others. The work of CSOs was guided by the CSOs elections strategy produced in February 2017. Consequently, some reforms were instituted that include the removal of the requirement for an electoral officer to witness how a visually impaired person votes; a more comprehensive Electoral Code of Conduct for political parties, and abolishment of the use of voter registration certificates (registration slips) where a person’s name does not appear on a voters’ roll. Further, several CSOs conducted public and candidates debates around electoral issues including ZESN which conducted a series of debates named “Making Elections Make Sense”. ZESN also convened the Election Situation Room, bringing together a number of CSOs two months before the election, to enhance coordinated and effective information sharing on electoral processes. Thus the ESR was operative before, during, and after the election, monitoring the environment and ensuring rapid response to electoral issues by engaging the responsible institutions.

While the pre-election environment was relatively peaceful and non-violent, except for the outstanding explosion at a ZANU-PF rally at White City Sports Stadium in Bulawayo. Nevertheless, it was tainted by incidents of intimidation, mostly by alleged ZANU-PF supporters; abuse of State resources in campaigns by ZANU-PF; the partisan role of traditional leaders in favour of ZANU-PF; politicisation of food aid; hate speech by candidates and their supporters; and the destruction of rival’s campaign material. Additionally, several contentious issues were raised ahead of the election, including concerns around ballot paper printing, design, storage, and transmission. Although ZEC invited stakeholders to witness ballot paper printing, the process failed to provide greater clarity as the observers were neither permitted to ask questions about the process nor come close to the printing press. Furthermore, ZEC failed to communicate effectively with stakeholders on key electoral processes such as postal voting.

The media demonstrated an improved understanding of electoral issues. However, there was evidence to suggest that the media was still polarised with regards to coverage of electoral issues, despite legal and ethical obligations aimed at ensuring impartiality and balanced coverage of campaigns, parties, and candidates. There was bias in favour of the incumbent while opposition and smaller parties, as well as women, got far less coverage. Over six weeks of the election period, ZANU-PF got 52% coverage while the MDC Alliance got 19%. Whereas Emmerson Mnangagwa got 57% coverage, Nelson Chamisa got 15%. ZANU-PF got 76% coverage in State-run newspapers and 48% on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), while the MDC Alliance got 17% and 6% respectively. Furthermore, while the pre-election environment witnessed no violations of rights for media personnel, seven cases were recorded after polling, between 1 and 3 August.

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