This report details the Zimbabwe Election Support Network’s (ZESN) observations of the Mutoko North Constituency National Assembly and the Chegutu East ward 16 by-elections. The Mutoko North Constituency seat fell vacant following the elevation of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic (ZANU-PF) Member of Parliament (MP) Mabel Chinomona to the position of President of the Senate while the Chegutu East Local Authority seat was necessitated by the death of the ZANU-PF incumbent Councillor for ward 16, Silas Chikati on 10 September 2018. ZESN observed the Nomination Court that sat on 12 October 2018 to consider applications of nominees for the by-elections. Three candidates: Boniface Mushore of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, Rambidzai Nyabote of ZANU-PF, and Edson Mugoma of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) successfully submitted their nominations and subsequently contested in the Mutoko North by-election. The Chegutu East ward 16 by-election was also contested by three candidates of the same parties namely, Patricia Mapfurira of the NCA, Tichaona Muchenje of the MDC Alliance and Obert Mutandinda of ZANU PF.
Ahead of the elections day, 24 November 2018, ZESN trained and deployed Long Term Observers (LTOs) to cover all ward in Mutoko North constituency and ward 16 in Chegutu East. The LTOs observed and reported on the environment, and electoral developments and processes in their areas of deployment. It is worth noting that no incidents of violence were reported prior to the election. The environment was peaceful although marked by rife intimidation and the violation of freedoms of speech, assembly, and association. On Election Day, ZESN deployed 76 static and mobile observers to Mutoko North Constituency and 7 observers comprising static and mobile observers to the Chegutu East Local Authority by-election. The observers were furnished with checklists to guide data collection and standardise reporting.
ZESN observed that ZEC made commendable efforts in providing Civic and Voter Education (CVE). For the Mutoko North by-election, ZEC conducted training and deployment of its voter education teams on 10 and 11 November, 2018. ZESN complemented ZEC’s efforts by conducting a voter education training workshop attended by 22 participants drawn from local Community Based Organisations (CBOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Social Emerging Groups (SEGs), Faith Based Organisations (FBOs) and cooperatives in Mutoko. Trained organisations developed action plans and ZESN provided voter education manuals and Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) material for distribution in the constituency. ZEC conducted voter education for the by-election between 12 and 17 November with one mobile team per ward moving door-to-door, addressing public gatherings, and distributed IEC materials. ZESN also deployed a mobile team that collaborated with ZEC teams between 13 and 15 November and shared IEC it reproduced with ZEC teams that had limited materials. The ZESN team addressed voters mobilised by traditional leaders and trained CBOs, and at church and community meetings.
An audit of the Mutoko North voters’ roll to ascertain its accuracy, completeness, and currency was conducted by ZESN. Overall, the audit revealed a progressive improvement in the quality of the current roll when compared to the rolls used in previous elections, especially the 2013 PVR.
ZANU-PF was the most visible party in campaigning, particularly by way of rallies while the MDC Alliance relied on moving around in vehicles campaigning and posting posters. There were no visible campaign activities conducted by the NCA. Although rallies were generally held peacefully, threatening statements were sometimes made at the rallies. Notable efforts by a local youth CBO to promote peace were made. However, ZESN continued to observe the tearing of rivals’ campaign posters in violation of the Code of Conduct for Political Parties, Candidates, and other Stakeholders. The participation of women in the election, particularly as candidates, remained a challenge. Even ZANU-PF did not field a female candidate despite the fact that the vacant seat had been occupied by a female candidate. There were also instances of the partisan distribution of food aid and seed by ZANU-PF ahead of the election. Whereas all media outlets should ensure that all political parties and candidates are treated equitable in the news media, there was a bias towards ZANU PF in the public media. Commendably, the media particularly the private media was able to cover electoral processes, for example primary elections and election day processes.
In terms of the voting day processes, all polling stations successfully completed setup and opening procedures on time and all the required voting materials were available. All polling stations were adequately manned with an average of seven polling officials, 50% of them being female in most cases. In addition, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and people with disabilities were allowed to vote ahead of other voters. ZESN particularly commends ZEC for efforts to have a separate polling booth at every polling station in Mutoko North that facilitated voting by PWDs. Overall, the Commission complied with the threshold on number of ballot papers that can be printed in excess of the number of registered voters. The participation of the traditional leaders continued with some of the village heads (Sabhuku) reported to have been election party agents for ZANU-PF.
The Mutoko North Constituency voters’ roll that was availed by ZEC has a total of 23295 registered voters. On Election Day, ZEC indicated that 52.9% turned out to vote. The processing of voters by the polling officials including those with special needs was observed to be efficient in both Mutoko North and Chegutu East. A low turnout of youth voters was noted in Mutoko and turnout in Chegutu East was relatively low. Overall, ZESN noted a reduction in turnout in both by-elections when compared to the 30 July Harmonised elections, ultimately reducing the total votes for each candidate. ZESN noted alarming statistics of assisted voters in the Mutoko North by-election, mostly women and on account of illiteracy. Due process was generally followed in assisted voting. There were cases of people who were redirected having turned up at the wrong polling stations. For the Mutoko North by-election, ZANU-PF deployed party agents comprehensively; every polling station and collation centre was manned by one or more ZANU-PF agents while MDC Alliance was not represented in only very few polling stations and the NCA did not an single agent at any of the centres. Other election observers namely the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the US Embassy and the British Embassy deployed observers to the Mutoko North by-election. Worryingly, some traditional leaders were reported to have been election party agents for ZANU PF.
Following counting, results were immediately posted outside the polling stations and at the constituency collating centre. At all polling stations that ZESN observed closing of polling and counting, party agents who were present signed the V11 forms. The ZANU-PF candidate, Rambidzai Nyabote, won the Mutoko North Constituency by-election. ZANU-PF has retained the seat from 2000 when ZESN started to observe elections, albeit with fewer votes in 2008. There was also a 34% decrease in votes garnered by the ZANU-PF candidate in the by-election compared to the 2018 harmonised elections. For the MDC Alliance, and the same candidate, the margin was a 58% decrease. The Chegutu East Local Authority by-election was won by Obert Mutandinda of ZANU-PF who polled 326 votes as compared to 89 and 13 garnered by the MDC Alliance and NCA candidates respectively.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)