A Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Statement
26 August 2023
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (The Coalition) has taken note of and welcomes the preliminary findings of various International Election Observer Missions (EOMs) to the Zimbabwe harmonized elections held on 23 and 24 August 2023.
Like all the EOMs, we would also want to commend Zimbabweans for turning out in their numbers to peacefully participate in choosing a Government of their choice, albeit under conditions which were far from free, fair or credible.
As of Friday 25 August, the African Union – COMESA EOM; the SADC EOM, the Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern Africa, The Carter Center EOM, the Commonwealth EOM, and the European Union EOM have released their preliminary findings in the wake of voting as the nation awaits finals announcement of results.
While the elections have been heralded as largely ‘peaceful and calm’ by all the EOMs, they have also highlighted and pointed out the numerous ways in which the elections fell short of our national and regional statutes. This dovetails with earlier assertions by civil society warning that Zimbabwe was embarking on an electoral journey, whose context and environment was bound to result in an election that would qualify as neither free, fair, nor credible.
The elections as conducted by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) fell far short of norms and best practice on elections management and were found to be in breach of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections as well the the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
Importantly, the EOMs were able to pierce through the veil of electoral chicanery by the incumbent Government and ruling party, ZANU PF, where they had managed to heavily tilt the electoral playing field way before voting day. In addition, many of the EOMs also saw for themselves how the logistical shortcomings of the ZEC betrayed an election management body that was not fully prepared to conduct a credible election. The actions by the ZEC, as roundly noted by the observer missions, suppressed voters, and put into question the credibility of the entire electoral process.
As of voting day, the following were noted as issues of concern by the EOMs:
Failure by the ZEC to commence voting on time at some polling stations in Harare, Bulawayo and Manicaland, leading to the extension of voting period by a day.
In some polling stations, not all ballot papers were available; it was also noted that at some polling stations, the V11 forms were not immediately available immediately after counting, prompting fears of attempts to manipulate the results.
The activities of the pro-ZANU PF shadowy group, Fore
ver Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), which set up desks near some polling stations and intimidated voters in the full glare of the public.
In addition to these malpractices and failures noted on voting day, the EOMs also acknowledged how the shrinking of civic and democratic space that had been noted in Zimbabwe over an extended report, tilted the electoral playing field, potentially denting the credibility of the elections. The following were noted as key:
The bungling of the delimitation process resulted in the disenfranchisement of many voters.
The failure to release the voters roll on time and subject it to an independent audit as advised by civil society and previous EOMs. The state of the voters roll used on election day showed clear errors and potentially disenfranchised many.
The raising of nomination fees for candidates did not only go against the constitution, electoral laws, and regional and international standards, but also curtailed the free participation of citizens, including women, youth and other socially marginalised groups.
The conduct of the state-controlled media, which openly showed bias towards the incumbent ruling party, and acted more as part of the ZANU PF party’s communication machinery than an independent and impartial public broadcaster.
The partisan conduct of law enforcement agents using the Maintenance of Public Order Act (MOPA), where the police barred and disrupted several opposition party rallies. The police went on to arrest 40 observers working under the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Election Resources Centre on the night of 23 August, for ‘attempting to release election results without authorization.’
The enactment of restrictive legislation such as the amendment Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and Cyber and Data protection Act, and the Private Voluntary Organisations Bill (even before enactment), were noted as not being in the spirit of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, and as impediments to free speech, a vital component of any credible election.
The coercion of police officers during postal voting; by being made to vote in front of their superiors, the officers were denied their right to free political choice.
The observers pointed out the capture of the judiciary as one of the factors that ensured the outcome of electoral disputes favoured the incumbent party and cited the example of the refusal by the courts to grant independent presidential candidate Saviour Kasukuwere his right to contest in the election.
By and large, the findings of the EOMs reflect many of the issues noted by local observers over both the extended pre-election period and on voting day.
Importantly, it is a welcome move that many of the EOMs have seen through the chicanery involving the ZANU PF Government and the ZEC in tilting the electoral playing field in favour of ZANU PF.
The findings of many of the EOMs confirm what we have raised all along regarding elections being used to mask authoritarian practices by a member state of the AU and SADC; many of these practices go against the dictates of both the AU Charter and the SADC Treaty, especially as read with their instruments on elections, the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance respectively.
It is therefore only right and just, that true to their mandates, the EOMs have pointed out the irregularities dogging the August 23 elections, and why these could potentially compromise its overall credibility.
This is exactly what the citizens of Zimbabwe have been trying to tell the ZANU PF Government and the ZEC to do the right thing in terms of ensuring a credible election - as dictated by our Constitution, and as supported by the SADC Principles and the African Charter.
The ZEC must now expedite the release of the final results, and not further compromise their credibility by holding them in perpetual abeyance.
In the same manner that citizens showed determination by coming out in their numbers to vote, and remaining peaceful thus far, we continue to urge the citizens to remain vigilant and ready to defend the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
We however continue to call on all stakeholders, including the host institutions and Governments of the EOMs, that elections alone will not cure the challenges facing the country. In fact, they will likely see the continuation of a divided country. This will not move Zimbabwe forward.
We therefore re-affirm our call to support a national dialogue process of Zimbabweans, supported by the region and the international community. Only dialogue anchored on a common vision, defined by all Zimbabwe, can be the foundation of sustainable, inclusive and progressive development. The national dialogue must help return Zimbabwe to norm compliance with democratic governance and norms, which we believe is key to supporting a genuinely credible election.
To SADC and the AU, thank you for standing with the people of Zimbabwe, and we call on your bodies to closely monitor the situation in Zimbabwe, and where necessary, utilize your influence to come up with interventions that protect the interests of the people of Zimbabwe and reassure the citizens of the sanctity of the vote.