Keeping the Fragile Peace and Making the Votes Count (Pre-Election Briefing Note)

Introduction

Zimbabwe goes to the polls in the next few hours. This is the first presidential election in the history of the country since the 80s that Robert Mugabe will not be a candidate.  It is also an election that comes within a precarious transition period that is bringing greater international scrutiny and support; and huge expectation for a new brand of democracy by Zimbabweans. This briefing note sets out the context and dynamics of the country as Zimbabwe goes to the polls.

Political Environment

The campaign period has largely been calm and peaceful apart from the isolated event of an explosion at a ZANU PF rally in Bulawayo.  In the past two days we have noted an increase in the number of cases reported to the ESR via the call centre and member reports of intimidation, vote buying, destruction of campaign materials and hate speech. Reports received from ESR members have shown while overt violence has been limited to date, intimidation is rife across the country. Intimidation has taken many forms including prevention of citizens attending or leaving party rallies and threats on how one should vote with the idea that voting will not be secret. Much of the intimidation reported has been perpetrated by traditional leaders alongside allegations of military activities in communities, which are reminders of the June 2008 Run Off election.

Nomination process

The Nomination Court sat on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Prior to Nomination Court, ZEC convened a stakeholder engagement meeting to provide information to aspiring candidates and political parties on the Code of Conduct, Nomination Court requirements, procedures and prohibited symbols. The Nomination Courts were generally well conducted with a few disruptions mainly between candidates who disputed the results of party primaries. However, the voters’ roll was not made available to political parties prior to the sitting of the Court. As a result, aspiring candidates were unable to verifty their information on the roll beforehand. The handling of the voters’ Roll by the ZEC has created serious constitutional and credibility problem. This poor management of the roll may be a major issue that could undermine the polls and throw the process into an unhelpful legal battle and credibility question.

Representation of women and people with disability

Women’s representation in the 2018 harmonized elections has decreased.  Only 15 percent of National Assembly candidates are women, and there are only 13 percent of female candidates in local authority elections. This low participation is the result of a hostile operating environment evidenced by higher levels of intimidation and hate speech directed against women standing as candidates, and a lack of regulatory incentives for political parties to promote women’s. The electoral process has not accommodated the participation of people with disabilities in contravention of the Constitution. This is a major challenge to the process and clear case of exclusion.

Misuse of administrative resources 

There have been several reports by ESR member organizations of government administrative resources being at the disposal of ZANU PF such as government vehicles utilized for campaigning, government officials speaking at campaign events and candidates campaigning at government events. This unleveled playing field is further compounded by the fact that ZANU PF is able to outspend all other parties substantially and the media coverage is overwhelmingly biased towards them.  The biases in the playing field undermine citizen’s ability to have a free choice in the election.

Postal votes

There have been allegations that some of the postal voting organized for police who will be on duty away from their regular stations on Election Day was conducted under the close supervision of their commanding officers, and that secrecy of the vote has not been upheld. The ESR is concerned by the lack of transparency of the ZEC through its failure to notify contesting parties, observers and the public regarding the postal vote procedures. The lack of transparency and allegations of malpractice accounts for the mistrust about the integrity of the whole electoral process.  The contradictory statements by the ZEC and the police have not helped the situation.

Zimbabwean Voters

In spite of the challenges facing the process, citizens have shown commitment to be part of the process and to exercise their franchise. Youth involvement is encouraging with youths representing 45% of the number of registered voters. Women represent 54% of the registered voters which is an area of great improvement from past election cycles. Citizens of Zimbabwe are the defenders of the democracy and their participation is key.

Below are key areas that Zimbabweans and the international community need to pay close attention as the polls open on Monday:

Conduct of ZEC and tabulation of results

In order to meet its legal obligation to present the Zimbabwean electorate with a transparent result and not simply a tabulated total figure, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should publicly release the spreadsheet containing the Presidential election results from each polling station underpinning the aggregated total Presidential results from the July 30th election. ZEC has a dedicated official website and there are no IT-related challenges to uploading such a spreadsheet to its website at the very same time as it announces the tabulated aggregated result to its citizens. This level of transparency is in compliance with Zimbabwean law and fully in line with Zimbabwe’s regional and continental commitments to democratic elections.

Violence and Intimidation

As the election draws closer, the ESR has seen an increase in the reports pertaining to harassment and intimidation in various province. The trend has shown Mashonaland East, West and Central provinces recording the highest number of cases reported. Cases of intimidation are subtle yet the fear induced through direct messaging or through short messages sent via personal mobile phones, can cause voters to be fearful to participate in the electoral process.

Conclusion

As Zimbabweans go out and vote on Monday 30th July 2018, the issues presented herein are key matters that feed into the role of elections and the citizens defending their democracy through participation in the electoral process.  The gradual development of events towards the 30th July 2018 have had other factors made a point of reference such as recorded reports of intimidation, violence , the role of ZEC and the need for the voters to have confidence in the electoral system.

About The Election Situation Room

The Election Situation Room provides a platform for effective citizen monitoring and domestic observation of electoral processes, where key stakeholders and the general public can feed information and receive timely updates on key electoral processes. To achieve this, more than 40 organizations drawn from across the country and from different sectors have come together under the banner of the Election Situation Room. It has a Steering Committee that provide leadership to the ESR. The members of the Steering Committee are:  Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), Election Resource Centre (ERC), Counselling Services Unit, Zimbabwe Peace Project, Heal Zimbabwe Trust, National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped, National Association of Youth Organizations, Habakkuk Trust, Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, and the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe.

For more information, contact the Election Situation Room on the following details:

Contact mobile: 0782092799
URL: zimelectionsituationroom.org
Facebook: ZimelectionsituationRoom
Twitter: @ElectionRoom
SMS / WhatsApp: 0774767556 and 0771514292