Foreign observers say Zimbabwe poll not free and fair

Saturday August 26 2023
eu eom

Chief Observer Fabio Massimo Castaldo (C) of the European Union Election Observation Mission in Zimbabwe addresses a press conference in Harare, Zimbabwe on August 25, 2023. PHOTO | JOHN WESSELS | AFP


Foreign poll observers on Friday said Zimbabwe’s Wednesday presidential and legislative elections failed to conform to the democratic principles, even as vote counting continued.

The Southern African country held chaotic elections on Wednesday, which spilled to the next day due to late printing of ballot papers for polling stations in some wards in opposition strongholds.

Voting started late in a number of polling stations after voting materials were delivered late and people voted late into the night on the first day.

Preliminary results are showing a close contest between the ruling Zanu-PF and the main opposition Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC).

Most observer missions noted that although the elections were generally peaceful, the electoral processes did not meet international standards.

Read: Zimbabwe’s new elections facing familiar old fears


In its preliminary report, the European Union Observation Mission (EU EOM) said “curtailed rights and lack of level playing field led to an environment that was not always conducive to voters making a free and informed choice in Zimbabwe’s elections.”

“The passing of regressive legal provisions and acts of violence and intimidation resulted in a climate of fear,” said EU EOM chief observer Fabio Massimo Castaldo.

“The violent arrest of members of accredited citizen observer organisations (Zimbabwe Election Support Network) ZESN and (Election Resource Centre) ERC, who exercised their constitutional rights, on 23 August, is of great concern.

“Both organisations are credible and respected human rights defenders.”

Thirty-nine monitors employed by ZESN and ERC were arrested on August 23 for running a parallel results tabulation exercise.

Read: Zimbabwe cracks down on 'parallel' poll results

They appeared in court on Friday facing charges of violating the country’s electoral laws.

The EU EOM said the elections where President Emmerson Mnangagwa is seeking a second term in office lacked transparency.

“Ultimately the elections fell short of many regional and international standards, including key principles of equality, universality, transparency and accountability,” Mr Castaldo said.

“While election day was assessed by the EU EOM as largely calm, the election process overall was hampered by significant issues regarding the independence and transparency of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.”

 “While election day was assessed by the EU EOM as largely calm, the election process overall was hampered by significant issues regarding the independence and transparency of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

“The campaign presented voters with a range of viewpoints, but there was a lack of level playing field, particularly regarding the freedom of assembly.”

President Mnangagwa’s main challenger, Nelson Chamisa (45) of CCC, had some of his campaign rallies banned by the police and the party said it went into the election without a voters roll that can be analysed.

Read: Zimbabwe police arrests 40 opposition members a week to polls

The EU EOM comprised 150 observers from all 27 EU member states, Canada, Norway and Switzerland.

Its preliminary findings echoed those of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which said the elections did not meet regional standards.

“Mission observed that the pre-election and voting phases, on 23-24 August 2023 harmonised elections were peaceful, and calm,” said former Zambian Vice President Nevers Mumba, who is the head of the SADC mission.

“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 (2021).

“The mission commends the people of Zimbabwe for maintaining a peaceful political environment during the pre-election period, and on voting day.

“In the event of any electoral disputes, the mission appeals to all contestants to channel their concerns through established legal procedures and processes.”  

Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is heading the joint African Union and Comesa observer missions, said the elections were generally peaceful.

“The elections were conducted in a generally peaceful and transparent manner despite the logistical challenges affecting the voting material,” Mr Jonathan said in his preliminary report.

Zimbabwe has a history of disputed elections dating back to the era of the late Robert Mugabe, who ruled with an iron fist between 1980 and 2017 when he was toppled in a military coup.

President Mnangagwa (80), who took over from his mentor promising a “new kind of democracy in Zimbabwe” is now being accused of being more autocratic than Mr Mugabe.