A NEW report reveals that confidence in the August general election has struck rock bottom, with the country failing the litmus test on tenets of electoral international best practice, less than three months before the polls.
As the country counts down to the elections, there are many unanswered calls by opposition parties and civil society for the government to roll out electoral reforms.
Since 2000, the country has suffered the dire consequences of disputed elections, which has seen targeted sanctions on top government officials, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa, over human rights abuses.
In the aftermath of the previous general election, six unarmed citizens were killed by security forces on 1 August 2018 after opposition supporters protested the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s delay in releasing the poll results.
Since Mnangagwa’s wafer-thin victory in 2018, there has been a long-standing debate on his legitimacy, which has worsened Zimbabwe’s socio-economic woes.
In May last year, the European Union Election Observer Mission (EUOM) expressed concern at the slow pace of electoral reforms after the contentious 2018 polls, saying progress on the implementation of reforms has been limited, with the majority of the priority ones yet to be addressed.
According to a report by Southern African Political and Economic Series Trust (Sapes) and the Research Advocacy Unit (RAU) titled Best Practices in Elections: Can Zimbabwe Meet These in 2023?, the country’s preparedness is at its worst, with the authorities falling short on five key principles of a good elections namely: integrity, information, insulation, inclusion and irreversibility.
“Integrity refers to the impartiality and accountability of the election management body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec). There are many signs that Zec is not impartial as is required by the constitution, including the significant numbers of military personnel working in the institution.
“Voter registration remains a concern, both because of the low uptake by citizens and the difficulties in getting identity documents, the non-availability of the voters’ roll, and the impeding of independent audits remains a problem as in the past. Voter education has remained constrained and unduly controlled,” read part of the report.
On the principle of irreversibility, the report said the country still lags behind in the management of disputes after an election.
“Irreversibility refers to several things. Firstly, that there is no reversing or tampering with results: the count and the outcome must reflect the will of the people. Secondly, it refers to the acceptance of the results by the loser.
“Here the outcome of the 2008 elections remains a dramatic example of non-irreversibility; where there was a result indicating that political power had shifted; where even the narrow victory of the MDC should have been graciously accepted (and supported by the region and the continent); but a violent second round resulted in the repudiation of the popular vote.
“To this might be added the spurious recall of the MDC MPs elected in 2018, and the disenfranchisement of nearly one million voters,” read the report.
The report showed that the country still has major holes in promoting equal participation in electoral processes, which has largely underlined by violence.
This has been evident with the rise in organised violence and torture, which has been increasing since January 2022, with the main culprits being identified as Zanu Pf supporters and state security institutions.
“Zanu PF supporters and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) responsible for 78% of the alleged violations, and opposition political parties responsible for less than 2% of documented violations.
“Inclusion refers to the notion that elections are about free and equal participation in the electoral process. It refers to the ability of citizens to register as voters, to obtain Information (directly and indirectly), to be free from intimidation and violence, and for all forms of treating to be absent.
“There is also the technical issue around Delimitation and the process of ensuring that every constituency and ward has balanced numbers so that all citizens are ensured equal opportunity and gerrymandering is prevented,” read the report.
According to the report, more still needs to be done in the shortest time to ensure a credible general election.
“The short answer is that there cannot be any confidence in the forthcoming elections. The conclusions for each of the pillars is that there are severe deficits for each and every one of these.
“Primary amongst these is the rising political violence and the association with groups supporting the campaign for the presidency, as well as increasing reports of militia groups operating. This is all linked to intimidation, forced membership of Zanu Pf, and clientilism on a massive scale.
“Unlike 2018, opposition political parties, and mainly the CCC, are having rallies banned, even having meetings in private houses disrupted, attendees arrested, and even lawyers assaulted. The levels of hate speech have increased, some of which are so egregious that they warrant arrest and prosecution.”
The report also highlighted the increase in intolerance against the political opposition and other dissenting voices.
“There is harassment and legal intimidation of political opponents, with one member being charged and found guilty of a non-existent law. The blatant partisanship of traditional leaders is yet another negative indicator.
Last week, the High Court acquitted prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on an allegation of obstruction of the course of justice.
The case involved President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s controversial niece and gold dealer Henrietta Rushwaya. Starting July 2020, Chin’ono was arrested and spent 45 days in jail; first on the case of allegedly inciting public violence, secondly on obstruction of the course of justice and thirdly for allegedly circulating a video that spread falsehoods.
Last week, Zengeza West legislator Sikhala was convicted, almost a year after his arrest, and slapped with a suspended six-month custodial sentence and a US$600 fine. Sikhala was however not released from custody, despite spending over 300 days in prison, with the state arguing he has outstanding cases.
The sentencing of opposition Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume on charges of inciting violence after he called for peaceful anti-corruption demonstrations has also raised a public outcry.
A fortnight ago, Ngarivhume was arrested for leading and organising the 31 July 2020 protests. He was convicted by Harare magistrate Feresi Chakanyuka on Thursday and has been sentenced to 48 months imprisonment, with 12 months suspended.
The report said Zec’s legal approach to elections is in a shambles, and fails to establish legitimacy, which is likely to see yet another disputed election.
“This flows from the consent of the governed, not from the narrow determination that the rules were followed in a parsimonious fashion: elected governments establish their legitimacy through the demonstration from the widest possible participation in voting, not just that they obtained a majority.
“Legitimacy also flows from the demonstration that the game was fair, the referee was non-partisan, and the outcome can be validated by impartial scrutiny.
“None of this is present in 2023, and the only prediction that can be made is the result once again will fail the test of acceptability, both nationally and internationally. Furthermore, the intention to produce a “landslide” victory for Zanu PF will fail also the test of credibility since none of the conditions that are a pre-requisite for a free and fair election are present now, and there is no possibility that all the desperately needed reforms are possible in the next three months,” read the report.