In response to an invitation from the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) deployed a mission to observe the 30th July 2018 Harmonised Elections.
The COMESA Observer Mission is led by Amb. Ashraf Rashed, a member of the COMESA Committee of Elders. The Mission is comprised of observers from five Member States of COMESA, DR Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, Zambia as well as the Secretariat.
2. Mandate of the Mission
The Mission anchored its assessment on the legal framework governing elections in Zimbabwe and the regional, continental and international standards on the conduct of democratic elections.
COMESA initially deployed a Pre-election Mission from 21st to 29th May 2018 to assess the level of preparedness on the part of all key stakeholders. This included consultations with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the Chief Justice, political parties, relevant Government ministries, the Commissioner General of Police, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), independent think tanks and selected members of society who raised pertinent issues on the electoral process, which were shared with ZEC and the Government, with the Mission’s recommendations.
Following the Pre-election Assessment Mission, a short-term Observer Mission arrived in Zimbabwe on Saturday 21st July 2018. The Mission endeavoured to observe a significant number of polling stations covering the ten provinces including voting and counting. The provinces observed are Bulawayo, Harare, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West, Masvingo, Matebeleland North, Matebeleland South and Midlands.
Based on its observation, the Mission is pleased to report the following-:
3. Preliminary Findings
The findings are based on the Mission’s observations on the pre-election, voting day and the counting of votes at the polling stations.
3.1 General Observation
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was able to effectively conduct the elections despite some challenges, as well as allegations raised during the Pre-election Assessment Mission, that in our view largely emanated from mistrust and lack of confidence in the electoral process due to past experiences. The Mission observed a significant improvement in the current electoral process as compared to previous elections. In general, the election took place in an orderly, calm and peaceful environment.
3.2 Election Campaigns
The Mission observed that campaigns were peaceful compared to previous elections, notwithstanding some acts of violence, particularly during the party primaries.
Candidates had the opportunity to campaign freely and made use of the significant political space which was noted during the elections.
In addition, the Mission appreciates:
i. the progress made in the implementation of the new provisions of the Electoral Act;
ii. the establishment of the Inter-Party Dialogue to promote engagement among political parties with the aim of reaching consensus.
3.3 Media Coverage
Several stakeholders raised concerns with regards to the unbalanced media coverage for political parties especially on the public-owned media during the campaigns.
3.4 Civic and Voter Education
The Mission commends the efforts made by ZEC in collaboration with accredited Civil Society Organisations in conducting voter and civic education. This significantly contributed to the higher voter turnout in all the polling stations observed by the Mission.
3.5 Biometric Voter Registration
The Mission also commends ZEC for the introduction of the Biometric Voter Register (BVR) which limited the possibility of multiple registration. In addition, the decision to use a polling station-based system of voting, as well as to cap the number of voters per polling station to a maximum of 1,000 contributed to the efficient management of the voting process.
The Mission acknowledges the efforts by ZEC to ensure that all voters were registered within the stipulated time frame. However, political parties and civil society organisations raised concerns with regards to the voters’ roll.
3.6 Gender Representation and Participation
The Mission notes with appreciation the considerable number of female candidates contesting the elections as compared to the past elections. However, the Mission expresses concern towards expressions of violence targeted at female candidates.
The high presence of females as voters, party agents, election officials and police officers at most of the polling stations observed is a welcome development.
4. Polling Day Observations
The Mission observed the opening, voting and counting of the votes at polling stations.
4.1 Opening of Polling Stations
Almost all polling stations observed opened on time and adhered to opening procedures as stipulated by ZEC. All required voting materials were available.
Zimbabweans turned out in large numbers in polling stations that the Mission observed as manifested by the long queues forming way before voting started. Voting processes progressed smoothly in a calm, well-organised and orderly environment. Local and international observers had full access to all polling stations and were welcomed by all stakeholders.
The Mission observed that polling was mainly conducted in schools, and in some instances in tents. The Mission also observed that ZEC provided adequate voting booths which were arranged in a way that ensured privacy and secrecy of the vote.
In some polling stations voters complained about long queues and slow progress of the voting process. In the Mission’s view this was due to the large numbers of voters present at each polling station at the time of opening.
Most of the voters were able to cast their votes without any challenges. However, few voters were reported to have been turned away because they did not either possess valid national identification or did not appear in the voters’ roll, while others were redirected to their polling stations.
Voters with special needs, including the elderly, expectant mothers, persons with disability were given priority, and assisted to cast their votes.
Furthermore, at several polling stations the Mission was informed by the Electoral Officials that over 50% of registered voters had cast their votes by early afternoon. The Mission observed that though the ballot papers were printed in black and white, they were generally readable.
4.3 Collaboration between different Government Organs
The Mission observed smooth collaboration between relevant government organs. Security was adequately provided. Police officers were present at all polling stations and they conducted their duties in a professional manner, without interfering with the voting process. In some regions, the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society was available to provide assistance when needed.
4.4 Presence of Party/ Candidate Agents
With regards to agents of parties and candidates, the Mission noted their presence in all polling stations particularly those representing ZANU-PF and MDC-Alliance. The Mission did not note complaints from party or candidate agents during the voting process or the counting of votes.
5. Closing of the polling process and counting of votes
The Mission observed that the closing and the counting processes took place on time as scheduled, in adherence to the laid-down ZEC procedures and in a calm and peaceful environment and in the presence of agents and observers.
6. Best Practices from the Zimbabwe 2018 Harmonised Elections
The COMESA Observer Mission noted the following best practices:
1. The establishment of the Inter-Party Dialogue forum for engagement among political parties with a view of building consensus on key issues;
2. The use of Biometric Voter Register;
3. The use of Short Messaging Services (SMS) to verify voter registration status as well as the identification of polling stations.
The COMESA Observer Mission appreciates the following electoral practices:
1. The invitation of regional and international observers as well as the presence of local observers created a level of confidence amongst stakeholders and enhanced the credibility of the process;
2. The adequate training of Electoral Officials who were observed to be performing their duties in a professional and impartial manner;
3. The use of the polling station-based voting system that restricts each voter to a particular polling station;
4. The high level of transparency witnessed during the voting and counting of votes.
7. Key Preliminary Recommendations
The Mission recommends that:
1. Whereas the capping of voters at polling stations to 1,000 is a positive development, ZEC may consider increasing efficiency in casting of ballots by further reducing the number of voters per polling station.
2. To enhance the clarity of ballot papers, ZEC may consider printing the ballot papers in colour, as was the case with the Biometric Voters’ Roll.
3. Ginen that media monitoring reverts to ZEC after proclamation, it is recommended that ZEC considers putting in place a strategy to ensure balanced media coverage for all parties and candidates on public owned media (electronic and print).
4. The inclusion of the diaspora in the voting process will be a positive development taking into consideration that the Constitution stipulates that all Zimbabweans have the right to vote.
Based on the observations above, the Mission notes that the electoral and polling processes in Zimbabwe were generally peaceful, transparent and adhered to national, regional and international standards.
The Mission also notes that this is an important opportunity for Zimbabwe to build on a new foundation. The 2018 Harmonised Elections represent a turning point; an epic moment for Zimbabwe and the Mission implores that the same constructive spirit observed during the voting day, and also during the campaign period will continue to prevail as the country embarks on completing the tallying process and subsequent announcement of the final results. The Mission urges contestants and all other stakeholders to respect the will of the people, maintain peace and to resort to legal channels in addressing any disputes that may arise.
The Mission congratulates all citizens of Zimbabwe for turning out in large numbers to exercise their democratic right to vote, and for ensuring that the process was orderly and peaceful.
The COMESA Mission will continue to observe the completion of the tallying process, and will issue a more comprehensive report in due course.
Finally, the Mission wishes the People and Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe continued peace, progress and prosperity.
Ambassador Ashraf Rashed
Head of COMESA Election Observation Mission to the Republic of Zimbabwe’s 2018 Harmonised Elections
1st August 2018.