This pre-election statement brings together the most important findings from the 41 member organizations of the Election Situation Room (ESR) since the beginning of the campaign.
The ESR provides a platform which over forty (40) civil society organizations and citizens use to report electoral malpractices and any observations on the electoral processes as they have been unravelling. The Election Situation Room was established at the beginning of June and was subsequently launched on the 27th of June 2018. It was established to provide a coordinated mechanism for receiving and sharing election information as well as providing mechanisms for redress for reported violations. The main purpose of the ESR is to provide information to citizens and electoral stakeholders to enable them to evaluate the fairness and credibility of the 2018 Harmonized Elections. The Election Situation Room (ESR) has enhanced monitoring of the political environment and response to as well as advocacy to resolve areas that need urgent attention during the pre-election, Election Day and post-election process. This pre-election statement brings together the most important findings from the member organizations of the Election Situation Room (ESR) since the beginning of the electoral campaign.
The campaign has been largely calm and peaceful apart from the isolated event of an explosion at the Zanu PF rally in Bulawayo. This relatively peaceful environment, there have been marred by disturbing reports of intimidation, vote buying, destruction of campaign materials and hate speech. Moreover, there have been reports of misuse of administrative resources in favour of the ruling party. As a result the ESR calls for political parties to send strong messages to their supporters to be peaceful in the spirit of the code of conduct and the National Peace Pledge that they have signed, and for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to increase take a more proactive role in ensuring transparency particularly over the tallying of results.in all electoral processes.
The Nomination Court sat on Thursday, June 14, 2018. 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 Court processes 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 which meant that aspiring candidates were unable to check that they were correctly included on the roll beforehand. These led to the disqualification of at least 6 candidates on the grounds that their names were not on the roll or were incorrectly captured on the voters roll. The voters roll is a critical document in the nomination process and as such the ESR recommends that in the future it needs to be availed to political parties before nomination.
Representation of women
The ESR notes with concern that women representation in the 2018 Harmonised Elections has decreased compared with previous elections. Only 15 percent of National Assembly candidates are women with, and there is only 13 percent of female candidates vying for local authority representation. This low participation is the result of a hostile operating environment evidenced by higher levels of intimidation directed against women standing as candidates and a lack of regulatory incentives for political parties to promote women’s candidature. Women candidates and those in positions of authority, such as the chairperson of ZEC, have been trolled in print, broadcast, and particularly social media. This does not provide for a level playing field and does not allow for inclusive participation. The ESR urges citizens to respect the rights of women and to desist from all types of abuse in all forms of media.
ZESN conducted a voter’s roll audit of the 2018 Voters roll through a computer test for duplicates, a ‘person to list’ audit to determine completeness and ‘list to person’ audit to determine accuracy. The audit showed that the voters roll passed the tests of completeness, comprehensiveness and accuracy. There were however a few problems with the voters roll that do not amount to disenfranchising citizens. Notwithstanding, the ESR is concerned at the delays in availing the voters roll to stakeholders and the fact that changes continue to be made and stakeholders are unsure of when and if the final version will be issued to them. This creates unnecessary suspicion and mistrust among political parties in particular.
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 people from attending rallies, prevention of people 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 by traditional leaders alongside allegations of military activities in communities, which are reminders of the June 2008 Run Off elections.
Campaign sms messages are a worrisome development and a classic case of intimidation. Many citizens have received campaign messages on their phones with specific details of their constituency and their wards from ZANU PF. This has caused citizens to wonder how one party had access to accurate personal information on their registration and has increased fears and feelings of intimidation.
The ESR has observed lack of tolerance for other parties which resulted in increased cases of pulling down of posters of aspiring council, national assembly and presidential candidates. The political parties signed the Peace Pledge and this was a commitment to tolerance, respect for diversity and peaceful elections. The pulling down of posters is contrary to the values and principles of the Peace Pledge launched by the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.
Misuse of administrative resources
There have been many reports by member organizations of administrative resources having been put at the disposal of ZANU –PF such as government vehicles being used 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 state 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.
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 has been 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 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 ZEC and the police have not helped the situation.
Secrecy of the ballot
Issues around the secrecy of the vote have been an area of concern in the pre-election period. The secrecy of the vote is protected by the Constitution and the Electoral Act. The changes in the ZEC polling manual on the layout of the polling station, and the positioning of the polling booths compromise the secrecy of the ballot. This does not help to build citizen confidence in a country that has a history on intimidation, fear and where citizens do not have confidence in secrecy of their vote and the electoral process in general. The credibility of an election process hinges on the universality of one man, one vote, in secret. The ESR understands, at time of writing that ZEC is reversing this decision and that training of polling staff is showing the polling booths position so as to protect people’s secret marking of their ballots. However ZEC has made no formal announcement on this change as yet and ESR members will continue to monitor for consistency in training and on Election Day.
Inclusive electoral processes
The constitution of Zimbabwe upholds the rights of persons with disabilities. However, ZEC has not clearly made provisions for how persons with disabilities will be assisted. ZEC states that special attention will be given to persons with disabilities on Election Day. It is to be feared that the lack of specification on what constitutes special attention will lead to varied approaches on Election Day. In addition, it is important for ZEC to take note that there are persons with invisible disabilities such as deafness and epilepsy who may also need to be supported quickly to reduce any undue stress on them. In this matter we have written to the ZEC and are still waiting for their response. We also note, with dismay, the dismissal of the High Court case in which Advocate Mateta, who is visually impaired, was seeking an order to compel ZEC to ensure that visually impaired persons vote using braille ballots or a tactile ballot system. People with disabilities have reported that this is a clear testimony that our legal system is oppressive and discriminatory to people with disabilities and that our judicial system is insensitive to the plight of the visually impaired electorate.
Results tallying and announcement
The ZEC has not issued procedures for tallying and announcement of results at the different levels for the different electoral races. This makes it difficult for observer organizations and political parties to train their observers and party agents to observe the processes. The ESR calls upon the ZEC to make these procedures available immediately and to commit to posting all results on their website for verification. If these measures are not implemented the election results will risk not being accepted.
Members of the ESR have deployed over 6000 observers to observe the electoral process and the ESR will continue to provide information to citizens. Key issues the ESR will look out for as we approach Election Day
- The ESR urges political parties to campaign in peace and to be faithful to the spirit and letter of the peace pledge.
- ZEC is urged to continue to engage with key stakeholders and to build confidence that they are able to preside over a credible election
The results management and results transmission process is critical in an election process and as such this has to be transparent. Members of the ESR will deploy observers to observe the process of tallying and tabulation of election results at the ward, constituency, provincial and national centres. The post-election processes are critical and the ESR urges political parties to follow the available conflict resolution mechanisms where they dispute election results to uphold peace and the rule of law in the country.
Source: Election Situation Room