Observers’ Reports on the General Election: EU Election Observation Mission Report
In Election Watch 43/2018 of 5th November we summarised the report and recommendations made by the Eminent Persons Observer Mission on the recent general election. In this Election Watch we shall do the same for the second international observer group to issue a report, namely the European Union Election Observation Mission [available on the Veritas website].
Observation by the EU Mission
The Government invited the European Union [EU] to observe the general election under a Memorandum of Understanding signed in late May. A team of 10 experts arrived in the country in early June and they were backed up later that month by 44 long-term observers who were deployed to all 10 provinces. A further 44 short-term observers joined the Mission on the 24th July, and another 26 observers were recruited from among the EU member states accredited in Harare. There was also a seven-member delegation from the European Parliament. In all, the EU Mission deployed 140 observers.
On polling day (30th July) members of the Mission visited over 600 polling stations in 154 of the country’s 210 constituencies to observe voting and the counting of votes.
The Mission’s final report was issued on the 10th October.
The EU Mission’s Report
The EU Mission’s final report runs to over 60 pages. In 13 chapters it carefully analyses the course of the election challenges and the post-election elections, including;
- the legal framework under which they were conducted;
- their administration by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission [ZEC];
- the process of voter registration;
- the selection of candidates by political parties;
- the general pre-election environment, the role of the media;
- participation by women and persons with disabilities;
- polling, the counting and collation of votes;
- the announcement of results;
- the election environment.
The report found that the pre-election environment was better than in previous elections, campaigning being largely peaceful, and that “overall, political freedoms …, including freedom of movement, assembly and speech, were respected.” It also noted that polling day passed peacefully, was generally well-managed and was conducted in an orderly manner.
Nevertheless, the report noted several shortcomings which are summarised, together with its conclusion, as follows:
“However, the right to an effective legal remedy [for the resolution of electoral disputes] was not adequately provided for, there is no equal suffrage and shortcomings in the registration of voters somewhat compromised universal and equal suffrage. Notably, major shortcomings in the pre-election environment impacted on the free expression of the will of electors, state resources were misused in favour of the incumbent and coverage by state media was heavily biased in favour of the ruling party. Further, the electoral commission lacked full independence and appeared to not always act in an impartial manner. The final results as announced by the Electoral Commission contained numerous errors and lacked adequate traceability, transparency and verifiability. Finally, the restrictions on political freedoms, the excessive use of force by security forces and abuses of human rights in the post-election period undermined the corresponding positive aspects during the pre-election campaign. As such, many aspects of the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe failed to meet international standards.”
The overall conclusion can be summed up more briefly as: “Better than before but still not quite good enough.”
The Recommendations in the Report
The Mission made 23 recommendations for addressing shortcomings identified in the report. The recommendations are collected at the end of the report and are as follows (those marked with an asterisk are what the report calls “priority recommendations”):
*1. The Electoral Act should be aligned with the Constitution, in particular in regard to the right to vote, and ZEC’s independence should be strengthened in regard to voter registration, the accreditation of observers and the making of regulations.
2. Delimitation of constituencies must be carried out well before the next general election.
*3. ZEC’s independence needs to be strengthened.
*4. The multi-party liaison committees should meet more frequently throughout the electoral cycle so that they become effective conflict resolution tools.
*5. ZEC should provide timely and effective information on all steps of its electoral preparations, with full transparency.
6. There needs to be longer and more comprehensive voter education.
*7. There should be enhanced voter registration in districts where registration has been low.
8. The addresses of voters needs to be ascertained more carefully and consistently to ensure the correct allocation of polling stations.
9. Anomalies in the voters rolls should be resolved; the results of ZEC’s de-duplication process should be published or a new process instituted.
*10. Effective legislative measures should be taken to mitigate the abuse of State resources and the misuse of incumbency.
11. Partisan behaviour by traditional leaders and civil servants should be monitored and sanctioned.
*12. More regulation, accountability and transparency is needed in party financing and expenditure.
13. The electronic media sector should be liberalised, and licences should be issued for community radio stations.
14. Media laws should be aligned with the Constitution to safeguard freedom of expression.
*15. The ZBC should be reformed as an independent public-service broadcaster, and State-owned media must be impartial.
16. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should be incorporated into domestic law.
*17. The procedures for ensuring the security of ballot papers from printing to polling should be reviewed and clearly announced.
*18. The results management process must be more coherent, clear and transparent.
19. The Public Order and Security Act should be amended to ensure legitimate political freedoms and to limit the powers of the security forces.
20. ZEC should have an administrative complaints mechanism for voters seeking protection of their rights.
21. Reasonable and appropriate time-limits should be established for pre-election applications to the courts.
22. Citizens and civil society organisations should be able to file election challenges.
23. The Electoral (Applications, Appeals and Petitions) Rules, 1995, should be aligned with the Electoral Act [and, presumably, the Constitution].
Some Further Points and Recommendations
Members of the EU Mission convened a meeting in Harare on the 16th October to discuss their report. Representatives of civil society organisations and the Government attended – but not ZEC, though they were invited. In the course of the discussion additional points were raised which the EU Mission said they would take on board:
- Any amendments to the electoral legislation must be made well in advance of the next general election, and should involve extensive consultation, perhaps through “white papers” outlining proposed amendments.
- The next census should be brought forward so as to allow a proper delimitation of electoral boundaries to be conducted before the next general election in 2023. This may entail amending the Census and Statistics Act.
- The courts are too prone to dismiss electoral challenges on technicalities; they should be encouraged or compelled to deal with the real issues involved.
- ZEC should give out more timely information and employ a spokesperson who is fully informed to liaise with the public and press.
- Enforcement of codes of conduct should be done promptly by administrative means rather than through the courts.
- Engagement with youths and youth organisations will be important for the success of future elections.
The EU Mission’s report, though critical, is a constructive one as its long list of recommendations shows. The recommendations are practical and eminently achievable if the Government and political parties have the will to carry them out. And they should have the will because, as the report concludes:
“It is fundamentally important that both government and opposition pursue democratic aspirations of their citizenry and deliver the reforms necessary to this end. The test of any successful democratic transition is when the opposition of today has a fair chance to be the government of tomorrow.”
Everyone – Government, opposition and citizens – should accept this.