By Simplicius Chirinda
Harare, August 2, July 2013 – Key observers to the Zimbabwean election on Friday sent mixed signals on the outcome of the harmonised elections seen as an end to the coalition government between President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party and the two MDC formations.
The observers though in agreement in some of their assessments of the poll appeared to be differing on the final valuation of the poll which MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai and some civic groups have already dismissed as unworthy to be called “credible.”
The African Union (AU) observer mission which was led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, whose coming to Zimbabwe courted some controversy prior to the election, was the first to offer its assessment.
“The voting was carried out in an atmosphere devoid of violence, harassment and disturbances,” the AU said in a statement read by the Observer Mission’s Deputy Chief Dr Aisha Abdullahi, who is also the Commissioner for Political Affairs at the AU Commission in Addis Abba.
“The Mission observes generally, that from a historical perspective and in comparison to the 2008 elections, Zimbabwe has made an important transition in the conduct of its elections.”
The AU deployed a 60-member Observation Mission to the 31 July 2013 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe in accordance with the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the OAU/AU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa. The mission observed the pre- election, election and post-election phases.
While the AU appeared to have been generally happy with the political environment that prevailed before and during the election it raised some concerns in the manner in which the election was run.
“The AU also takes cognisance of several short-comings in the preparations for the poll and on polling day such as the Inspection of the Voters’ Roll by the public and provision of copies to candidates.” the AU Deputy Chief of Observer Mission stated.
“While Sections 20 and 21 of the Electoral Act requires ZEC to provide a copy of the Voters Roll within ‘a reasonable’ period of time, the Mission notes that the final Voters Roll, was made publicly available two days before the election – rather late for meaningful inspection and verification by voters, parties and candidates to take place.”
The AU also noted shortcomings with the duplication and omission of voter names on the voters roll and over printing of ballots.
“The Mission notes that the number of ballot papers printed (8.7 million), corresponding to 35% above the number of registered voters, was significantly higher than international best practices (5 -10%) and raises concerns of accountability of unused ballots. It is the Mission’s hope that ZEC will accomplish the task of accounting for the ballots to the satisfaction of stakeholders and all interested parties,” the AU stated.
The continental body’s observer mission also recorded high incidences of voters turned away, late publication of final list of polling stations, high number of assisted voters and polarised media.
“The Mission notes the occurrence of high number of assisted voters in many polling stations nation-wide. Examples include polling stations in Muzarabani District, Mashonaland Central; at Musengezi, at the time of observation, 97 voters out of 370 were assisted; at Kapembere Primary School, 77 voters out of 374 were assisted and at Bore Primary School, 85 voters out of 374 were assisted. Furthermore, at a polling station observed by the AU Mission in Manicaland there were 97 assisted voters out of a total of 370 voters,” the AU stated adding that “while the current electoral laws provide for assistance by presiding officers, electoral officers and police officers, the involvement of such officials may influence or restrict the free will of the assisted voter.”
The AU said its observers will stay in the country until 14 August 2013 to observe the post-election phase.
On the other hand, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) observer mission (SEOM) appeared to have virtually certified the Zimbabwean election urging the losers of the election to accept the “hard facts.”
“SEOM wishes to implore all Zimbabweans to exercise restraint, patience and calm. The future of your country is in your hands. More importantly, SEOM would like to call on all political parties to respect and accept the election results as will be announced by the constitutionally mandated Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC),” said Bernard Kamillius Membe, the head of the observer mission.
“Whoever is aggrieved with the results, should not resort to violence, but rather should go to the court of law or engage in dialogue.”
When asked whether his statements implied that the election was free, fair and credible, he responded saying indeed they were free and credible because of the prevailing peace and calm as compared to the violent 2008 election.
However, the mission also noted some of the concerns raised by the AU mission but said this would not amount to discrediting the election.
Meanwhile, the SADC Council of Non -Governmental Organisations (SADC-NGO) has dismissed the credibility of the election.
“Though the scope and extent of the impact of the observed anomalies on the outcome of elections could not immediately be ascertained they in themselves constitute serious electoral deficits. This mission concludes that the credibility, legitimacy, free and fair conduct of the Zimbabwe 31st July harmonised elections and therefore their reliability as a true expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe have been highly compromised,” said the SADC – NGO in a statement.