In line with its mission to promote democratic electoral processes in Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) observed the Mutasa Rural District Council (RDC) Ward 10 by-election held on Saturday 11 May 2019. The Ward is found in Mutasa Central Constituency in Manicaland Province. The seat fell vacant following the arrest and sentencing of the incumbent MDC Alliance councillor, Frank Chitembwe. Chitembwe was later granted bail when the Nomination Court had already sat. A court application filed by Chitembwe to try and stop ZEC from conducting the by-election was unsuccessful. Three candidates: Margaret Tindirika of the Zimbabwe African union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF); Rose Tanyaradzwa Mukodza of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance; and Justin Tanyaradzwa Chirimo of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) contested in the by election that was won by the MDC Alliance. The ZANU-PF and MDC Alliance candidates were female while the NCA candidate was male.
ZESN deployed a Long Term Observer (LTO) to observe election-related developments in the period leading to, during and after the by-election and after the election. Short Term Observers (STOs) were deployed to cover all the six polling stations and the Ward Collation Centre on Election Day. The pre-election period recorded some cases of vote buying and intimidation by ZANU-PF and traditional leaders, and an incident where MDC Alliance supporters threw stones at the house of someone they accused of lying that the former Councillor, Frank Chitembwe, had blocked roads during the January 2019 protests that happened in parts of the country. There were also incidents of the defacing of campaign posters. ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance actively and visibly campaigned using rallies; roadshows; door to door visits; posters; and fliers while the NCA’s campaign was much less visible.
On Election Day opening, polling, and counting procedures were followed in accordance with the law. However, some incidents of attempts by ZANU-PF activists to try and influence how voters cast their ballots were reported. Some voters were told to feign illiteracy and would be accompanied to polling stations so that they would be assisted to vote. In some cases voters were redirected to other polling stations. Overall, a few voters were turned away without being allowed to vote on account of not being registered. The by-election recorded the highest turnout (at 68%) of the seven local authority by-elections held since the harmonised elections. Nevertheless, as with all the other by-elections, this turnout was less than the 86% recorded for the same Ward in the harmonised elections. The MDC Alliance retained the seat with its candidate garnering 801 votes. The ZANU-PF candidate got 548 votes while the NCA candidate got 16 votes. A comparison of votes received by the MDC and ZANU PF in the harmonised elections reveals that, the MDC Alliance lost 480 votes and ZANU-PF gained 97 more votes.
Post-election, ZESN received reports of statements reportedly made by ZANU-PF supporters to the effect that the drilling of a borehole that started on Election Day at Masere Business Centre would stop. There were also reports of the politicised distribution of food aid with MDC Alliance supporters being denied food aid. Among other things, ZESN recommends that political parties and supporters engage in peaceful political activities and desist from violence and intimidation; political parties must urge their supporters to desist from destroying campaign materials for rival parties; and traditional leaders to desist from partisan conduct.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)
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