The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) held two municipality by-elections on 13 July 2019 in Bikita Rural District Council (RDC) Ward 31 and Nyanga RDC Ward 26. The two local authority by-elections were held to fill council seats that were left vacant following the deaths of the Councillors who won the seats in the 2018 harmonized elections. ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance contested in both by-elections while the NCA only contested in Bikita.
ZESN deployed Long Term Observers (LTOs) in both Wards to observe election-related developments from 29 May until immediately after the elections on 13 July 2019. The LTOs reported that the pre-election environment was peaceful, but there were reported cases of the politicized distribution of aid by ZANU-PF in both Wards. On the Election Day, ZESN managed to deploy Short Term Observers (STOs) to only two of the six polling stations in Bikita and three of the five polling stations in Nyanga.
The Election Day environment was largely peaceful in both Wards. However, ZESN observers confirmed reports of the clash between ZANU-PF and MDC Alliance supporters in Bikita (in Ward 31 ) which momentarily disrupted polling. ZESN observers reported that polling processes went on well throughout the day in both Wards.
At all polling stations where ZESN had observers in Bikita, the NCA did not have political party agents. Voter turnout for the by-elections was lower than that the turnout during the Harmonized elections. For instance 62% of registered voters cast their ballots in the Bikita RDC Ward 31 and 51% in the Nyanga RDC Ward 26 by-election. The voter turnout for the two Wards during the Harmonized Elections was 84,73% and 83.81% respectively.
The highest number of turned away voters was at Erin forest polling station in Nyanga where 13 voters had been turned away for not being on the voters’ roll and producing the wrong identity documents as early as midday. Some of the 10 voters who were redirected to other polling stations argued that they had previously voted at the polling station they were being turned away from. There were no women candidates in both by-elections.
However, women in Bikita actively participated as voters as evidenced by the fact that in an update given by ZEC as of 1600 hours on the election day, 68% of those who had voted were women.
Both by-elections were won by ZANU-PF. The party therefore retained the Bikita Ward 31 seat and won the Nyanga Ward 26 seat that was previously held by ZANU-PF. In Bikita, ZANU-PF won with 702 more votes than the second winning party MDC-A while in Nyanga it won with a margin of 161 votes. ZANU-PF got 29 more votes In Bikita than in the harmonied elections and 40 more votes in Nyanga. The MDC Alliance got 425 less votes in Bikita and 288 less votes in Nyanga between the the by-elections and the 2018 harmonised elections.
Based on its observations, among other things, ZESN recommends the following:
- political parties should desist from partisan distribution of aid and there is need for the enforcement of the Code of Conduct for Political Parties, Candidates, and Other Stakeholders to deal with issues that include vote buying
- there is need to maintain a peaceful political electoral environment and tolerance among political parties as well as the enforcement of the Code of Conduct for Political Parties, Candidates, and Other Stakeholders to deal with issues that include intolerance among political parties
- all political parties contesting in any election should comprehensively deploy agents; ZEC should find mechanisms to address high numbers of assisted voters, including intensifying voter education linked to the secrecy of the ballot to try and deal with suspicious cases of assisted voting
- ZEC should intensify voter information to ensure the electorate is well informed about the requirements for one to vote; political parties and CSOs should emphasise to citizens the importance of by-elections, especially local authority by-elections and mobilise voters to participate.
- political parties and CSOs need to continue encouraging women to participate in elections and to make deliberate efforts to field and support female candidates in elections.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)
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