CRISIS COALITION ELECTIONS UPDATE FROM MAY 22-JUNE 2, 2023
General Political Environment
Generally, the political situation was calm with no major incidents of political violence reported.
However, a report released by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT), Veritas and the Counseling Services Unit (CSU) revealed that organized violence and torture continue to stalk the 2023 election process. The report also noted that hate speech was likely to fuel political violence.
Reports of threats to opposition members continue to be reported in rural constituencies while the ruling party, ZANU PF continues to mobilise traditional leaders and war veterans to support its election campaigns against the dictates of the constitution.
The ruling party, ZANU PF has finished its candidate selection process while the major opposition party, the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) is yet to complete the process.
Proclamation of election dates
On May 31, 2023 President Emmerson Mnangagwa, through an extraordinary Government Gazette proclaimed August 23, 2023 as the date for Zimbabwe’s 2023 general elections.
According to the gazette, the Nomination Court will sit at the High Court in Harare on June 21, 2023 to register aspiring Presidential elections.
Aspiring parliamentary and local authority candidates will be registered at various centers across the country.
President Mnangagwa also set October 2, 2023 as the day for the Presidential election run-off in the event of a stalemate.
Brief analysis of election preparedness
1. Credibility of the electoral management body (and processes)
Concerns over elections without reforms
The proclamation by President Mnangagwa basically implies that Zimbabwe is going to elections under the present Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] - the possible reforms that had been anticipated with amendments to it currently in parliament, minimalist as they were, will not have an effect at least constitutionally on the 23 August election. Without envisaged reforms and without issues related to the voters’ roll being resolved, the legitimacy of its outcomes already comes into question even before election day. Some analysts have pointed out that according to the constitution, Parliament is no longer able to effect any reforms proposed in the Electoral Amendment Bill.
Concerns were also raised by opposition leader; Douglas Mwonzora that the proclamation of election dates by President Mnangagwa is a “disregard of the law”. The opposition leader has a pending case in which he is challenging the Delimitation Report at the High Court.
However, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the proclamation of election dates has no effect on the Electoral Amendment Bill.
Fears of voter exclusion and another disputed election mount
The inspection of the voters’ roll started on May 27, 2023 and was scheduled to end on May 31, 2023. However, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) extended the inspection process to June 1, 2023 following a public outcry. The various anomalies revealed during the period raises doubts over the technical capacity of ZEC to preside over credible polls; other perspectives question its will, amid concerns of capture by a complex of the military and the ruling party. Above all, concerns are abound on the credibility of the voter roll itself which ZEC has to this day kept a closely guarded secret. as well as the credibility of the voters’ roll.
Registered voters who had inspected their names online failed to find their names during the physical exercise at their polling stations. In light of this, there are genuine fears that thousands of voters will be disenfranchised.
Commenting on the issue, ZEC said the Delimitation process could have resulted in the movement of registered voters from one polling station to another
Some of the inspection centres opened late in the afternoon while the Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), a shadowy group affiliated to the ruling party, ZANU PF, was heavily involved in the inspection process. Reports indicate that FAZ agents were planted at polling stations where they were asking voters for proof of their ZANU PF membership before inspecting their names. The fact that FAZ can freely engage in electoral work while other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are restricted points to selective application of the law and an attempt to tilt the playing ground in favour of ZANU PF.
On May 30, 2023 the Charge’ D’Affairs at the US Embassy in Harare, Elaine French was summoned by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “for meddling in electoral processes” following tweets that encouraged Zimbabweans to register to vote and make sure their voice is heard in the 2023 elections.
2. Code of conduct for stakeholders
A code of conduct to govern the conduct of contestants during the 2023 harmonised elections has not been published by ZEC. Civil society actors however are drafting an alternative code of conduct for the 2023 elections.
3. Access to state media
The state media continues to be biased in favour of ZANU PF. The reality is that the state media has continued to be a mouthpiece of the ruling party; amplifying the party’s campaigns while denigrating the main opposition, the CCC.
Our brief analysis and recommendations
The centrality of the upcoming harmonised elections to Zimbabwe’s re-engagement and development processes cannot be over-emphasized.
It should be worrying that our government has just committed to implementing far-reaching governance, economic and land tenure reforms through the Structured Dialogue Platform being ‘championed’ by the AfDB President Dr Adesina and former President Chissano of Mozambique. However, the passing of the Patriotic Bill in parliament in the ended week, coupled with the proclamation of the election dates, means it will be very difficult to remedy the many abnormalities within the election management system outside political means beyond those provided for in the constitution.
Civil society actors have pointed out that enhancing the credibility of the upcoming poll can still be achieved through basic actions that go just beyond rhetoric to genuinely guaranteeing free participation of citizens in elections by political actors. While remedying the entire deficits noted in the conduct of the entire electoral process remains important, guaranteeing free participation of citizens is primary among.
We continue to call on the Government to abide, and for the many stakeholders trying to assist the Government of Zimbabwe take the correct path with its elections, to insist on a simple benchmark framework, that ensures adherence and conformity with those in the ACDEG and as supported through the SADC Principles and Guidelines and codified in our own constitution and electoral laws. ZEC retains the primary mandate to enhance the integrity of the vote and their professionalism, impartiality, transparency, accountability and credibility is critical for credible elections.
ZEC can still immediately avail a copy of the voters roll to all citizens who are interested in having it; more so it must be made available to all candidates free of charge, with particular attention to women and youth candidates who remain economically disadvantaged.
To enhance credibility and sow some level of confidence in the process, ZEC must submit the electronic voters’ roll for an independent audit for accuracy and tidiness. The chaos seen during the recent voters roll inspection period betrays a certain level of chicanery at place; clearly, the voters roll is already a contested arena in any prior or final verdict of the election.. The continued refusal by ZEC to avail the voters’ roll to contesting parties continues to dent chances of a credible election.
ZEC must compel the state broadcasting infrastructure through the Ministry of Information, to ensure access to coverage for different and divergent voices among different electoral stakeholders, with a balanced mix of political actors (parties) and civil society groups including women, youth, PWDs, sexual minorities, artisanal miners, peasants, farmers, business, churches, among others. Fostering a culture of open dialogue can help promote peaceful participation, reduce tensions and pre-empt political violence, a major impediment to a credible poll.
ZEC must prioritize being as transparent as possible and encouraging more open engagements and full participation of all citizens in the electoral process, including civil society actors seeking to help improve our electoral processes. This includes ensuring that relevant, accurate and timely information on the election is available to all citizens.
That the continued involvement of the Forever Associates Zimbabwe operatives fronting the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) is further denting the credibility of the action. Their actions collecting details of citizens coming to inspect the roll are intimidatory and given their link to the spy-organization and its chequered history in our elections, citizens are expressing fears of this being a clear intimidation tactic.
It cannot be overemphasised that guaranteeing an environment for open contest with no undue exclusion, suppression and restrictions of potential voters is of paramount importance for all stakeholders.
The ZEC and the government of Zimbabwe must allow civil society organizations with no direct links to security institutions of the state such as FAZ, to freely operate in supplementing voter education and awareness efforts.
It remains the right of all Zimbabweans to contribute to improving our elections, given how contested governmental legitimacy affects all citizens, not just the ‘illegitimate’.
Upholding peace and political tolerance ahead of the 2023 harmonized elections is key in guaranteeing credible polls in 2023.