WHILE the Harare government has been making frantic efforts to sanitise the chaotic general polls, the Sadc region has refused to ignore or forget Zimbabwe’s shambolic polls, which were underlined by a host of serious irregularities, The NewsHawks has learnt.
The bloc has resolutely rejected vicious attacks on its election observer mission which, in an unprecedented move, produced a damning report on Zimbabwe’s polls.
The report has seen Zimbabwe’s leaders go on a warpath castigating Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, for appointing the country’s former vice-president, Nevers Mumba, as head of the mission which produced the report that poked holes into the disputed election.
This week, an extraordinary meeting of the Sadc organ troika ministerial committee resolutely defended the regional grouping’s election observer mission and its report, saying the 23 August election did not meet the thresholds of the country’s constitution, the Electoral Act and the Sadc Principles and Guidelines governing Democratic Elections.
The ministers indicated the behaviour of Zanu PF and Zimbabwean government officials over the issue was reprehensible as it practically damaged Sadc’s reputation and credibility, while also distorting the processes of electoral observation in the region.
Effectively, Sadc told the Harare authorities to stop behaving like a bull in a China shop as that risked discrediting the regional body and its future election observer missions in other countries due for elections such as Eswatini, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and the Comoros Islands.
“The EO-MCO Troika noted the personal attacks and threats on the media that have been directed at the SEOM Head of Mission Dr. Nevers Mumba and the Chairperson of the Organ, His Excellency Mr. Hakainde Hichelima since the Zimbabwe SEOM released its Preliminary Statement on 25th August 2023,” read the report by Stanley. K. Kakubo, Zambian Foreign minister, and chairperson of the Ministerial Committee of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
“The EO-MCO Troika further noted that such attacks undermine the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and might have a negative bearing in the future elections, especially with another election coming on the 29 September in the Kingdom of Eswatini; and reiterated that SEOMs are in line with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, and that reports are produced by a collective of the Member States observers, led by the Organ Troika and supported by the Secretariat.
“The EO-MCO Troika noted that there is a risk that if unchecked, further attacks on the leadership of the Organ and of the SEOM have the potential to damage the credibility of SADC as an institution.”
According to Sadc’s electoral calendar, Eswatini started its elections on Friday, while Madagascar is holding the first round of its presidential election in November and the second one in December this year.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is holding its presidential, legislative and provincial elections in December this year.
Zimbabwe’s flawed election violated the Sadc guidelines promoting the holding of regular free and fair, transparent, credible and peaceful democratic elections, sparking a row.
The country, being a member of the bloc, is bound by the regional instruments that provide for a clear delimitation process.
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].”
The regional mission also pointed out that the delimitation process had several grey areas that ate into the credibility of the election itself.
“The mission was informed that the delimitation exercise that was concluded in 2022 by the Zec was marred with controversy. In one way or another, concerned stakeholders claimed that the report that Zec submitted failed to observe the constitutional requirements for such an exercise, and that there were also divisions amongst serving commissioners of the Zec regarding veracity of the report,” reads the SEOM preliminary report.
“The main allegations made against the (delimitation) report was that it constituted gerrymandering, and that it failed to observe the correct methodology for calculating the 20% variance constitutional rule.”
The report also resulted in divisions among commissioners. Seven commissioners have spoken out against the delimitation process and outcome, effectively opposing Zec chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba.
As a result of the fallout, Chigumba removed Commissioner Jasper Mangwana and his deputy Catherine Mpofu from their roles as spokespersons of the election management body.
Chigumba allocated that role to herself, her deputy Rodney Kiwa and Zec’s chief elections officer Utloile Silaigwana.
The final report gazetted by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in February has in some cases retained a ward and constituency population threshold of over 20% — in violation of the constitution — which has in the past been condemned by experts, while failing to declare ward and constituency boundaries, which is contrary to section 161 (11) of the constitution.
Some stakeholders, particularly the main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), expressed concern over the delayed release of the voters’ roll in searchable and analysable format.
The party went into the election without an analysable copy of the voters’ roll after Zec had released the roll in PDF format, in violation of the Electoral Act, amid suspicion that the electoral body was manipulating the vote register in favour of Zanu PF.
Section 21 (7) of the Electoral Act mandates Zec to release an analysable copy of the voters’ roll to nominated candidates.
It reads: “Where a voters’ roll is provided in electronic form in terms of subsection (3), (4) or (6), its format shall be such as allows its contents to be searched and analysed.”
Section 21 (6) also mandates Zec to release the voters’ roll in reasonable time after closure of the nomination process.
“Within a reasonable period of time after nomination day in an election, the Commission (Zec) shall provide: ‘(a) free of charge, to every nominated candidate, one copy in electronic form of the voters’ roll to be used in the election for which the candidate has been nominated; and (b) at the request of any nominated candidate, and on payment of the prescribed fee, one copy in printed form of the voters’ roll to be used in the election for which the candidate has been nominated’.”
Freedom of assembly
The campaign period was largely tilted towards the ruling Zanu PF, while other opposition outfits had their campaign rallies banned.
In August, the SEOM reported that it had noted controversy emanating from the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (MOPA), which sets out a process for notifying the Zimbabwe Republic Police of the intention to hold rallies.
In January, CCC leader Nelson Chamisa exclusively told The NewsHawks that 62 of the opposition party’s meetings were banned since the party’s formation in 2022, showing the government’s intolerance ahead of the polls.
The number gradually increased.
A month before the election, police were forced to intervene, with Ndofandaedza Jaboon, police commander for elections, writing to police commanders saying rallies must not be banned out of partisan whim.
“Commanders should note that for elections to be deemed free, fair and peaceful and credible, the playing field should be reckoned as level, hence the police actions should not discredit the electoral processes,” read the letter directed at officer commanding police provinces, officer commanding Support Unit, director of the Criminal Investigation Department and the director of police intelligence.
“The Regulatory Authorities (officers commanding districts) should acquaint themselves with provisions of the Electoral Act and MOPA [Maintenance of Peace and Order Act] as to make informed decisions. The purpose of this legal instrument is for the police to prepare and take actions aimed at ensuring that any political activity is done peacefully.”
The voting process was largely riddled with logistical challenges that saw voting starting as late as 4pm in the evening in wards and constituencies known to be opposition strongholds, contrary to the Electoral Act provision that voting starts at 7am.
“64% of the voting stations opened on time, 36% did not open for the 7am stipulated time. Some polling stations opened 12 hours later after the stipulated time,” read the SEOM report.
The reason provided by Zec for this was the unavailability of ballot papers, particularly for the local authority elections, and also due to previous litigation, raising outrage as the electoral body had earlier assured the nation it was ready to conduct the election emphasising that it printed enough ballot papers for the election.
In August, Zec was caught in a storm after it controversially changed the Electoral Act to alter the deadline of postal votes. Postal voting is a system that enables voters to cast their ballots even though they cannot get to their polling station on polling day.
Zec confirmed that the government gazetted Statutory Instrument 140A of 2023 which altered the deadline for the submission of postal voting materials from 9 August to 20 August due to delays triggered by a series of electoral court challenges.
The changes to section 75(1)(d) of the Electoral Act through Statutory Instrument 140A of 2023 altered the minimum period in which the chief elections officer must receive postal votes from a minimum of 14 days to a minimum of three days from polling day.
This piled pressure on Zec to print and distribute the postal ballots throughout the country and around the world to the 17 483 registered voters who qualified to cast their ballots of the 18 000 voters who applied for postal voting by deadline day on 5 July 2023, and then subsequently receive on time the postal votes back in the remaining 13 days before 20 August 2023.