Zimbabwe election not entirely free and fair – observers declare

Zimbabwe election not entirely free and fair – observers declare

By Times Live

With vote counting under way, the EU Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has criticised the way the election in Zimbabwe was conducted.

On Friday, EU EOM chief observer Fabio Massimo Castaldo presented their preliminary statement on the August 23 elections in Harare, saying the “curtailed rights and lack of level playing field” in the poll was “not always conducive to voters making a free and informed choice”.

The EU EOM mission was invited by the government to observe the election. The mission comprises 150 observers from the 27 EU member states.

“The legal framework could provide an adequate basis to conduct elections in line with international standards espoused by Zimbabwe, if implemented properly,” Castaldo said.

“Ultimately the elections fell short of many regional and international standards, including key principles of equality, universality, transparency and accountability.”

The EU EOM said while it assessed election day as having been “largely calm”, the election process overall was hampered by significant issues regarding the independence and transparency of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

“The ZEC missed opportunities to increase public trust in the integrity of voting and results management.”

The chief observer also added that the “the passing of regressive legal provisions and acts of violence and intimidation resulted in a climate of fear”.

About 40 people — including election monitors from civil society groups Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and Election Resource Centre (ERC) — were arrested.

Commenting on the arrests, Castaldo said: “The violent arrest of members of accredited citizen observer organisations ZESN and ERC, who exercised their constitutional rights, on August 23, is of great concern. Both organisations are credible and respected human rights defenders.”

Meanwhile, regional observers have raised concern about a “shadowy” organisation, Forever Associate Zimbabwe (FAZ), which they accused of intimidating voters.

In their preliminary reports, the Sadc Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM), AU and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa COMESA accused the organisation of “electoral intimidation”.

Nevers Mumba, head of the Sadc Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) and a former Zambian vice president, said the election was peaceful and calm, however some aspects of the election fell short of the requirements of the constitution of Zimbabwe, the electoral act and the Sadc principals and guidelines governing democratic elections.

“In previous stakeholder consultations, a shadowy organisation called Forever Associates Zimbabwe was accused of conducting a countrywide exercise of electoral intimidation. Our observers confirmed the existence of this group as its officials or agents were easily identifiable at some polling stations as they were dressed in regalia emblazoned with the FAZ name and were accredited local observers. These, and other unidentified persons who were not polling officials were also observed taking down the voters’ names before they cast their votes. In some areas, voters were intimidated by the actions of these individuals.” Mumba said.

The AU and COMESA also presented a joint preliminary assessment on Friday, saying the election was “generally peaceful and transparent” despite logistical challenges.

“The mission also noted the presence of FAZ which in certain cases led to confrontations with the voters. Regrettably, the mission was informed of the Zimbabwe Republic Police raid on the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network offices in Harare, seizure of election-related equipment and the arrest of leaders of the Network and the Election Resource Centre. The mission is concerned about such actions which have the potential of undermining the peace and integrity of the ongoing process,” they said.

On poll days, FAZ set up what they termed “Exit Poll Survey Desks” outside polling stations. At the desks, voters were required to submit their ID numbers.

FAZ was launched in June 2022. On its website it says: “We live to serve … in answer to our Motherland Zimbabwe’s and ZANU PF’s call to duty in pursuit of national peace, economic development and stability.”

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