ALTHOUGH the Zanu PF government has desperately endeavoured to discredit the preliminary report of the Southern African Development Community Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) on the country’s general elections, a legal and parliamentary affairs think-tank, Veritas Zinbabwe, says the mission has operated within its mandate in evaluating the electoral laws and recommending reforms.
While the SEOM’s criticisms and recommendations provoked a storm of protest from Zanu PF, Veritas said the mission operated within its mandate as stipulated in the Sadc Guidelines and Principles which ensures that member states hold free and fair elections, while encouraging them to respect their constitutions and laws.
In its preliminary report, the SEOM rejected Zimbabwe’s sham election won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in a major dramatic and unprecedented political move never seen before in the region, leaving the polls broadly discredited.
The disputed election, underlined by intimidation and logistical challenges, saw voting starting at night at some polling stations, especially in opposition strongholds.
After the election, Mnangagwa said: “I am aware that some observer missions went beyond their call of duty and began interrogating legislation passed by our Parliament . . . I don’t think it is in the mandate of election observers to interrogate institutions of a sovereign government.”
The SEOM pointed out serious flaws in the delimitation of constituencies that gave Zanu PF an unfair advantage over the opposition and also highlighted violations of the Electoral Act in failure by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to present the opposition with an auditable copy of the voters’ roll.
“The delimitation of constituencies, the mission suggested, was flawed in that constituencies varied by more than the 20 per cent permitted by section 161(6) of the Constitution. The Zec failed to make the voters rolls available in good time to contesting parties, violating section 21 of the Electoral Act and the constitutional requirement that elections be transparent and fair,” said the mission led by former Zambian president Nevers Mumba.
SEOM also underlined violations in the freedom of assembly and speech through the banning of opposition rallies and amendments to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which criminalises holding meetings with foreign governments.
“High nomination fees may have discouraged less well-off people, including women, from standing as candidates, in violation of paragraph 4.1.7 of the SADC Principles and Guidelines. State media — press and broadcasting — favoured one political party over the others, contrary to the Constitution, the Electoral Act and the SADC Principles and Guidelines,” reads part of the analysis.
Veritas said Zimbabwe, being a member of Sadc, is bound by the guidelines which also promote the holding of regular free and fair, transparent, credible and peaceful democratic elections.
According to the guidelines: “A SEOM must observe whether the member state’s legal and constitutional framework guarantees human rights relevant to elections [Article 11.3.2]. More specifically, the SEOM should assess “the structure and model of the electoral system, the Electoral Management Board, the Electoral Act and regulations and the nature of civil and political rights” [Article 13.2.3].
“Also in the pre-election period, a SEOM must inquire into the delimitation of electoral boundaries — whether the factors considered were in accordance with the law of the land [article 11.3.6]. During the electoral period a SEOM must assess the locations of polling stations, the production and distribution of ballot papers, the processes of voting and counting votes and the adequacy of safeguards against inaccuracies [article 13.5].”
“In the post-electoral period, the mission is mandated to observe whether there are effective remedies for violations of electoral-related rights [article 184.108.40.206.]. Also in the post-electoral period, a SEOM must assess “the development of changes to electoral-related laws, rules, regulations and administrative procedures preceding and following elections” [Article 220.127.116.11].
Veritas says it is unfair for the government to attack the observer mission.
“If government spokespersons do not like those criticisms and recommendations they are entitled to say so and to rebut them if they can; but if they have any knowledge of or respect for our country’s obligations under the Sadc Treaty they should not claim that the mission exceeded its mandate,” it said.