Zimbabwe is set to conduct the first House of Assembly by-election on the 24th of November 2018, following the July 30 harmonized elections. While conventional observation of the pre-election environment and polling day environment has and will reveal a largely peaceful electoral atmosphere, such findings tell very little about the nature of the election that is about to be conducted. It must be acknowledged that the history of by-elections in Zimbabwe has been broadly peaceful and characterized by limited voter turnout compared to harmonized elections. The limited voter turnout has been attributed to the limited competition and interest in by-elections in the country by political parties and voters alike.
The manner in which by-elections are conducted often does not reflect the electoral trends that will characterize the next major election but reflect the attitude towards electoral reforms. The ERC contends that by-elections are a safe arena to test changes to improve how elections are conducted.
The peaceful atmosphere that has characterized the pre-election environment in Mutoko North is highly commendable. It is hoped that the high levels of political tolerance witnessed can be sustained through strengthening institutions and mechanisms that ensure the safety and security of persons during all elections. Peace, tolerance and security of persons during elections must not be at the benevolence of those with the capacity to deploy mechanism that threaten the same peace, tolerance and security of persons. Adequate institutional frameworks, systems and procedures must be instituted and strengthened to make them functional beyond the by-election.
The ERC further noted improvements in the administration of electoral processes including the conduct of voter education by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and civil society organizations and the release of the voters’ roll to election stakeholders ahead of the elections in comparison to the July 2018 elections. In the case of voter education, it is encouraged that efforts by ZEC be extended as far as possible to improve the reach and impact of the voter education exercise. Voter education for the Mutoko North by-election only commenced on the 12th of November 2018, less than two weeks before polling day. On the voters’ roll the ERC noted that no voter registration process was conducted before the closure of the voters’ roll ahead of the by-election contrary to the legal provision that voter registration must be a continuous process. ZEC is encouraged to fully embrace the legal provisions relating to voter registration and make available the complete biometric voters’ roll for inspection by voters and election stakeholders.
It was also noted that election officials were recruited and trained to administer polling day ahead of the Mutoko North by-election. The ERC has always encouraged ZEC to administer the recruitment and training of all electoral officials in a transparent manner which can be accessed by observers for purposes of meeting international best practices. Such a change did not happen ahead of the by-election.
The ERC also noted that the by-election had not been made accessible to persons who qualify for postal voting as no invitations were publicly issued for citizens to apply to vote by post. While by-elections rarely invite attention including from potential postal voters, all relevant legal provisions should be followed in the administration of elections without exception. The administration of postal voting must also be accompanied by relevant transparency and accountability measures such as informing the stakeholders on how many applications were received, how many of the applications were successful and how many ballots papers were issued for postal voting. The credibility of Zimbabwe elections lies in a consistent, legal, transparent and accountable administration of all electoral processes.
Finally, ahead of polling day, ZEC was still to share information detailing; how many ballot papers were produced for the by-election, where the ballots were printed and stored and how many ballots would be released on polling day. This information is essential for purposes of verifiability of the election and results.
While the ERC acknowledges efforts by ZEC to conduct by-elections consistent with the provisions in the Electoral Act, it remains concerning that key provisions that could enhance the credibility of our elections continue to be ignored regardless of explicit recommendations that were shared by invited international observers after the July 2018 elections. The ERC encourages ZEC to seriously consider reviewing the administration conduct of all future elections in full fulfillment of its constitutional and legal obligations.
At the center of the credibility of future elections in Zimbabwe lies constitutional and legal obligations relating to the transparency, verifiability and accountability of the administration of all electoral processes. Four months after the disputed harmonized elections, Zimbabwe appears to have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing in terms of elections. Reform must begin now.
Source: Election Resouce Centre (ERC)