Having summarised the reports of three international observation missions – the Eminent Persons Observer Mission, the EU Observer Mission, the IRI/NDI Zimbabwe International Election Observation Mission and the Commonwealth Observer Group – we turn to the African Union’s observer mission. Unfortunately the mission has not yet produced a final report, so we shall summarise the preliminary statement it issued on the 1st August 2018, before the final results of the general election were announced.
The AU Observer Mission
The African Union responded to an invitation from the Zimbabwe Government by sending 14 long-term observers to the country on the 1st July and 50 short-term observers on the 23rd July. The mission was headed by Mr Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, a former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Mrs Minata Samata Cessume, the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs.
The electoral environment was generally calm and peaceful, and the process was highly competitive.
The legal framework was an improvement over previous elections; in particular with the creation of the Electoral Court and multi-party liaison committees.
Nonetheless the Observer Mission noted that the Electoral Act was not properly aligned to the Constitution.
The Mission reported that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC] carried out all stages of the electoral process within statutory timelines and made concerted efforts to engage stakeholders through multi-party liaison committees. It noted, however, that liaison meetings were not consistently held and that many opposition parties doubted ZEC’s impartiality and competence.
The Mission noted the new BVR voters roll, but reported that despite ZEC’s assurances and steps to ensure its integrity, some opposition parties and CSOs expressed concerns about its accuracy, completeness and inclusivity, about its late production, and about ZEC’s failure to conduct a proper independent auditing exercise.
The Mission considered the increased participation by parties and candidates was evidence of improved political space in Zimbabwe and reported that parties and candidates were able to associate and function “without much inhibition to their rights”.
The election campaign was largely peaceful, the Mission reported, with parties and candidates able to exercise their rights of free speech and assembly without restrictions. The Mission observed, however, a few violent incidents in Kwekwe district, and reported complaints by opposition parties of:
- schoolchildren being made to attend ruling party rallies,
- the use of government vehicles to ferry people to those rallies,
- the use of traditional leaders for campaigning, and vote-buying through food aid and agricultural inputs.
The Mission could not determine the extent to which those activities might have impacted on the credibility of the electoral process, but said it was important to underline that they may have provided an unlevelled playing field in the electoral contest.
Participation of women
Despite the constitutional guarantees of equality, the Mission noted the low participation of women as candidates – only 7 per cent of the candidates contesting the elections at all levels.
The Mission noted that ZEC had been unable to operationalise a media monitoring committee, with the result that both State-owned and private media houses exhibited a noticeable degree of polarisation characterised by inequitable coverage of political parties and candidates.
Civil society participation
The Mission observed a high degree of participation by CSOs and ZEC’s co-operation with some of them in sensitising voters. It noted concerns that the high fees for accrediting domestic election observers reduced CSO participation and contravened Zimbabwe’s obligations under Article 12(3) of the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which requests States to create conducive conditions for civil society organisations to exist and operate within the law.
The Mission observed opening and closing in 23 polling stations (18 in urban and five in rural areas) and voting in 345 polling stations (74% in urban and 26% in rural areas) in 43 districts. It found that most polling stations it visited opened on time and that voting was generally peaceful and orderly in them with the secrecy of the vote guaranteed. Polling agents from the main parties were present and were given access to observe. Police officers were present inside and outside the polling stations, but their presence was mostly discreet, non-intrusive and professional. Campaign materials were seen in 28 polling stations but no campaign activities were observed. Overall the Mission assessed the performance of polling officers and the conduct of polling as mostly very good, though the procedures for counting of votes needed to be made less cumbersome.
The Mission’s Verdict
The Mission found that by and large the process was peaceful and well administered.
The Mission’s recommendations
The Mission’s recommendations were the following:
- Legal framework: There is need to align and harmonise the electoral laws to comply with the Constitution.
- Political Environment: The current open and free political environment should be maintained, and all stakeholders must refrain from acts that may undermine the integrity of the electoral process or threaten the country’s peace and stability.
- Women’s participation: Mechanisms should be put in place to increase women’s participation in the electoral process, particularly as candidates.
- Media: In light of the partisan and polarised nature of the media, the Broadcasting Services Act should be fully implemented and the State broadcaster should give equal access to all contestants during elections.
- Voters Rolls: ZEC should avail the final voters roll to political parties, candidates and other stakeholders within a reasonable time to allow for a comprehensive voter audit and verification, as well as facilitate effective participation in the process.
- Multi-Party Liaison Committees: ZEC should foster dialogue and consultation with stakeholders to enhance confidence in the electoral process and operationalise multi-party liaison committee meetings to improve communication with stakeholders.
The Mission’s positive view of the electoral process is hardly unexpected, in view of the AU’s favourable verdicts on previous Zimbabwean elections. Nonetheless the report is balanced and, so far as it goes, is in line with reports of other international observer groups.
The report is only a preliminary one, however, and does not cover the announcement of results or the events that occurred on and after the 1st August. Whether in the light of those events the Mission’s final report will give a different verdict remains to be seen.