The week's highlight is that the pre-election environment remains tense, both across and intra-party wise. The main development towards the 2023 election is the emergence and omnipresence of a state funded entity- the Forever Associate Zimbabwe (FAZ).
FAZ is dually registered both as a not for profit and private company. Its motto is, as per their website faztrust.com : lives to serve motherland Zimbabwe and Zanu PF’s call to duty in pursuit of national peace, economic development and stability.
Our view is that any person of institution has a fundamental right to associate or create, but our plea and report is that FAZ must, as a taxpayer funded entity, remain apolitical. Secondly, It is illegal to deploy people's taxes to support a partisan cause. Thirdly, the conflation between Zimbabwe and Zanu PF is problematic as it suggests a drive towards a one party state in Zimbabwe.
Fourthly, to the extent that FAZ has a right to support a political entity of its choice, never should the birthright of Zimbabweans to elect a government of their choice be subverted through terror.
The Zimbabwean Constitution does not just assert the right to vote, but the spirit of the Constitution, in the Preamble. resolves, celebrates, cherishes and rallies Zimbabweans in their diversity to commit to the Constitution and build a united, just and prosperous nation founded on values of transparency, equality, freedom, fairness, honesty and the dignity of hard work. That is the Coalition’s weekly call as Zimbabwe prepares for the second election post November 2017.
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What happened in the week
As political parties continued with their campaigns ahead of the 2023 elections, there were isolated cases of political violence that were reported during the period under review- of course taking into consideration numerous cases of intimidation of opposition supporters that were recorded across the country.
There were reports of clashes between the main opposition, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) activists and ruling party, ZANU PF activists in Nyatsime, Chitungwiza. Police claim that CCC activists attacked ZANU PF members and damaged property while injuring a number of the ruling party supporters.
Following the incident, a total of 39 CCC activists were arrested but the opposition party has dismissed the arrest as a clear case of persecution by prosecution resulting from the partisan nature of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
In another apparent case of lawfare, two CCC activists from Mahusekwa, Mashonaland East Province were on June 7, 2023 sentenced to an effective 12 months in prison each for assaulting a ZANU PF member in 2022. Taking into consideration the fact that a number of ZANU PF activists who have terrorised opposition activists in past elections continue to operate above the law, the claim of selective application of the law holds water.
Ruling party activists continue to act with impunity while the partisan conduct of the police and the judiciary has worsened or fuelled political violence in Zimbabwe. State security agents continue to be fingered in political violence and a report by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum indicating in its 2023 first quarter political violence report recording a total of 28 cases of arbitrary arrests and detention by the State.
This partisan nature by state security agents ahead of the 2023 elections works against the concept of free and fair elections and limits citizens' right of association and expression. It is therefore disturbing that state security agents continue to be associated with rights violations during elections in Zimbabwe. During the period under review, reports of the Forever Associates of Zimbabwe, a shadowy group linked to ZANU PF, terrorising citizens continued to be recorded.
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition gathered that in Uzumba, Mashonaland East Province, a number of opposition supporters had been identified to vote as assisted voters in the August 23, 2023 elections. Given the fact that Uzumba is one of the country's political hotspots, there is a real possibility of victimisation of citizens who will seek to exercise their constitutional right to vote freely without coercion.
State security agents continue to violate citizens' fundamental rights such as freedom of association and expression.Skepticism continues to grow over the possibility of peaceful and credible polls in August 2023. What happened in the week The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill passed through the Senate on June 7, 2023 and now awaits Presidential assent.
The Bill criminalises correspondence with foreign governments and imposes penalties, including death, on citizens found guilty of "willfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe".
Other penalties, as outlined in the Bill include prohibition from being registered as a voter for a period of at least five years. The amendments to the criminal Code, besides restricting freedom of association and expression violate Section 67 of the country's constitution which guarantees the right to free, fair and regular elections and to make political choices freely.
These amendments should be viewed in the context of attempts to silence opposition voices and limit the participation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to advocate for credible polls at the local, regional and global level. The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Bill sailed through Parliament at a time the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill is awaiting Presidential assent as well.
These two pieces of legislation will definitely further close the democratic space through imposing restrictions on freedom of association and assembly as well as freedom of speech while curtailing the work of CSOs in pushing for respect of fundamental human rights and credible polls. It is quite apparent that ZANU PF, through abusing its Parliamentary majority, is bent on titling the electoral playing field in its favour by introducing draconian laws.
The Legal Environment
1.Concerns over ZEC’s capacity to preside over credible polls Concerns continued to be raised over the capacity of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to preside over credible polls with the main opposition CCC blaming the electoral management body for acting in favour of the ruling party, ZANU PF.
Anomalies on the voters’ roll and the failure by ZEC to avail the voters’ roll to all contesting parties ahead of the elections continue to create an unfair playing field and point to yet another disputed poll in 2023. The composition of ZEC remains a point of major concern amid reports that some of the Commissioners are aligned to the ruling party heavyweights including the party’s Vice President, Kembo Mohadi.
2. Fears of political violence
The continued involvement of the shadowy Forever Associate Zimbabwe (FAZ) and state security agents in electoral processes has the potential to fuel victimisation of opposition activists especially in rural areas. It reverses and threatens Zimbabwe's independence, especially since one person one vote was a virtue of the liberation struggle. Partisan conduct by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) will result in ruling party activists acting with impunity and this is likely to result in political violence against opposition supporters. Peace should not be taken in the context of the absence of violence but rather the absence of fear and cases of intimidation of opposition supporters by state security agents and ruling party supporters are causes for concern
3. Code of conduct for stakeholders
ZEC is yet to publish a code of conduct to govern the conduct of contestants during the 2023 harmonised elections. An alternative code of conduct is being drafted by civil society actors. 4. Access to state media The state media continues to be biased in favour of ZANU PF while amplifying the party’s campaigns and denigrating the main opposition, the CCC. This is against basic electoral standards, the Motlanthe Commission report, the High Court judgment of 2018. The state media is in contempt of court (..this case is on the Veritas website)