Unacceptable – July 30: One step forward, two steps back

Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections held on 30 July 2018 have failed to pass the credibility test, with some influential local and international observer missions and civic society organisations criticising the pre- and post-election environment.

This election was historic. For the first time since 1980, Zimbabweans voted in an election where former President Robert Mugabe was not on the ballot. For many, it presented an opportunity to break with past elections characterised by allegations of grand fraud and gross human rights violations.

Promises of “free, fair and credible” elections by President Emmerson Mnangagwa – who was declared the winner of the disputed poll by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) – gave both locals and the international community hope that Zimbabwe was turning for the better.

And, for a short while, it seemed so. Compared to previous elections, cases of election violence dramatically decreased during the campaign period and the opposition held two massive demonstrations without being banned or harassed by the police. On the surface, all seemed well, but in reality, the election was degenerating into a farce well before voting day.

Organisations such as Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Zimbabwe Peace Project, Election Resource Centre and Heal Zimbabwe among others were recording cases of intimidation, particularly in rural areas.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) filed several cases to stop traditional leaders from aligning with any particular political party. ZLHR also wanted traditional leaders stopped from coercing their subjects into voting for the ruling ZANU-PF party. According to the European Union Election Observer Mission (EUEOM), despite the improved political climate, the playing field was uneven and there was a lack of trust in the process.

“The Chief Observer highlighted the positive election campaign, during which political freedoms were respected. He also highlighted the peaceful and enthusiastic participation of Zimbabweans on Election Day as they exercised their right to vote. But he expressed strong concerns regarding some of the pre-electoral practices, such as intimidation of voters, ZEC’s lack of transparency in preparations, media bias and some problems around polling stations on election day,” the EU observer mission said in a statement issued after the election. “For Zimbabwe to embrace democracy and move on from the past, such practices must stop”, said EUEOM Chief Observer Elmar Brok.

Voting day was peaceful, although the European Parliament noted several shortcomings such as insufficient information for voters to identify the correct polling station, which led to confusion and frustration outside polling stations.

“We have seen some intimidation of voters outside polling stations. We also saw an unusually high number of rejected voters and assisted voting. It was noted that not all polling stations posted the results of the count outside, as required,” said head of the delegation of the European Parliament, Norbert Neuser.

After the election, the deployment of the military in the city centre to crush opposition protestors resulted in the death of at least six people. Human Rights Watch (HRW), a pro-democracy group said it witnessed what it described as chaos on the streets of Harare, when hundreds of soldiers and anti-riot police officers were deployed across the city, as residents awaited the result of the 30 July 2018 elections. HRW said it saw scores of soldiers patrolling on foot, indiscriminately beating anyone in sight as two helicopters in military camouflage colours flew several times over the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance party headquarters. The Zimbabwe Republic Police confirmed the death of six people, though there are fears that the death toll could be higher.

The incidents were also broadcast live on many of the world’s leading news channels, turning an election that was expected to usher a new era into an embarrassing spectacle. “The heavy-handed response to Zimbabwe’s post-election protests, including firing live ammunition, suggests that the security forces are as abusive as ever,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa Director at HRW. “Prompt, credible investigations are needed so that those responsible can be held to account and future violence is avoided,” Mavhinga added.

Over the weekend, ZLHR deployed lawyers to offer emergency legal support services to 27 people who were arrested by ZRP officers last week and charged with committing public violence as defined in section 36 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act following protests staged in Harare over the management of the harmonised elections.

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

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