On 26 March 2022, by-elections were held to fill in 28 vacancies in National Assembly seats and 122 in local authorities. This was after a long period, far beyond the 90 days set by Zimbabwe’s electoral laws for the filling in of such vacancies, owing to the indefinite suspension of by-elections from early 2020. Most of the vacancies arose as a result of recalls that followed squabbles in the then main opposition, the MDC Alliance.
While by-elections continued to be suspended on account of COVID-19, other sectors of the economy opened and activities resumed in schools, churches and other public facilities. ZESN Long Term Observers (LTOs ) observed the pre-election environment and processes. In the pre-election period, ZESN observed electoral malpractices that include violence during campaigns; restriction of some opposition campaign activities; vote buying; unequal access to the public media among others, however ZBC . On the eve of the sitting of the nomination courts, Nelson Chamisa announced the launch of a new political party, ending a fight over the name ‘MDC Alliance’. Most of the candidates who were nominated as CCC candidates were elected MPs and Councillors on the MDC Alliance ticket in 2018.
The nomination courts set twice to receive nomination papers for National Assembly elections after the setting aside of an initial High Court order declaring the absence of vacancies in six constituencies. On Election Day, static observers were deployed to observe at some polling stations, mobile teams were deployed to constituencies, and a central communication centre was set up. ZESN observers were provided with checklists to standardise observation and reporting. Voters’ rolls for National Assembly and local government elections closed at different times, with the implication that voters who were not aware of it learnt on Election Day that in some cases they could only vote for Members of Parliament but not Councillors. This pointed to the inadequacy of voter education.
On polling day, polling was generally well administered by ZEC with due processes and procedures being followed, except for a few instances where the voters’ roll was not displayed outside polling stations before Election Day; some polling stations were located at private properties; and lighting became a challenge at some polling stations as the day ended, among other things. While the Election Day was largely peaceful, there were reports of some people who were writing down names of voters close to polling stations. COVID-19 protocols were enforced, with voters who did not have face masks turned away. Outside some of the polling stations, ZESN observed teams from the Ministry of Health and Child Care who were vaccinating citizens against COVID-19 for free. Gender inclusion in elections was commendable on the part of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the Police as many female polling officials and Police officers were seen at the polling stations.
High numbers of assisted voters as well as redirected voters were observed at some polling stations. The participation of women and youth in the by-elections was noticeably low. CCC won 19 of the seats while ZANU-PF emerged victorious in nine. After the 2018 harmonised elections, 20 of the seats were held by the MDC Alliance, seven by ZANU-PF, and only one by the NPF. Overall, turnout was very low in the by-elections. In view of the observations made, there is need for robust civic and voter education interventions encouraging voters to vote in elections; peace building initiatives targeting political parties and local communities and their leadership to reduce incidences of violence and intimidation; avoiding setting up polling stations in privately owned properties or near controversial spaces, for instance near political party billboards and considering having the same closing date for National Assembly and local authority by-elections voters’ rolls, among other things.
Read the full report here (3MB PDF)