By Simplicius Chirinda
Harare, August 1 2013 – Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who said he was participating in yesterday’s elections, “with a heavy heart” has described the poll as a “huge farce” as civic society groups highlighted electoral irregularities which they said were enough to discredit the poll as largely unfair.
Tsvangirai, who on Thursday morning met with Olusegun Obasanjo, the chairperson of the African Union (AU) observer mission and former Nigerian President and the head of the SADC observer mission, Bernard Membe said the July 31 harmonised election was not credible because of the many irregularities that it suffered before and during polling.
“Its credibility has been marred by administrative and legal violations which affect the legitimacy of its outcome. The election does not meet SADC Guidelines. It is a sham election does not reflect the will of the people,” said Tsvangirai with a whiff of anger.
“Thousands failed to register and were disenfranchised.”
Tsvangirai, who complained about a lot of pre-poll irregularities said there was duplication of names on the voters’ roll, unauthorised movement of voters from their wards (leading to almost 40% voters being turned away and disenfranchised), manipulation of voters’ choice – voters forced to plead illiteracy and resort to “assistance” and the use of traditional leaders (chiefs and headmen) to intimidate voters.
“In our view, the outcome of this election is illegitimate. We therefore call for SADC and the AU audit teams to look into this process, in particular the voters’ roll, the ballots and the manner in which the whole process was conducted,” said Tsvangirai adding that, “In our view this election does not meet the SADC, AU and international standards for a credible, legitimate, free and fair election.”
For its part the Zimbabwean civic society groups working under the banner of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said Wednesday’s election was marred by many irregularities and cannot be passed as having been free and fair.
“Before election day the voter registration process was systematically biased against urban voters. The voters’ roll of 19 June as provided by the office of the Registrar General clearly showed that urban voters had systematically been denied the opportunity to register to vote. A total of 99.97 percent of rural voters were registered while only 67.94 percent of urban voters were registered,” ZESN said in a statement.
“Over 750 000 urban voters were missing on the voters roll compared to rural voters. In contravention of the Electoral Act, the final voters’ roll was not made available in electronic format prior to election day,leaving no way to assess any bias on the final voters roll.”
ZESN said these are some of the factors that will overally contribute in undermining the degree to which the results of the elections could be considered as a true reflection of the will of the Zimbabwean people.
The grouping which is made up of 31 non-governmental organisations working around electoral issues also said it will not be sufficient for an election to be credible just because it was peaceful.
“For elections to be credible they must offer all eligible citizens a reasonable opportunity to register to vote, to inform themselves about the candidates, to vote on election day and for their votes to be properly counted. ………… We urge observers and all stakeholders to look below the surface as there are some grave issues that have arisen. All is not well,” ZESN stated.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries (ECF -SADC) has endorsed Wednesday’s election as free and fair.
ECF-SADC is a grouping of 15 electoral management bodies (EMB)s of SADC member states’ electoral commissions, whose mandate is to among other things promote conditions conducive for credible and transparent elections in the region.
It had an observer mission made up of 25 members drawn from Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zanzibar.
“The ECF-SADC commends ZEC for the tremendous efforts in organising these elections and mobilising the voters within such a short period of time. This demonstration of professionalism and independence must be highly commended,” Advocate Notemba Tjipueja ECF-SADC Mission Leader said at a press briefing.
“We are satisfied that this election was conducted in a free, fair and credible manner that meets the SADC guidelines on elections.”
She however expressed concerns over the late release of the voters’ roll, disenfranchisement of Zimbabweans in the diaspora, excess printing of ballot papers well above the recommended threshold of 5 percent and the short space of time given to organise the election.
The mission recommended that the voters roll should be cleaned for future elections, organisation of elections on time, intensification of voter education and introduction of braille ballot papers to assist blind voters.
Asked if she still maintains her mission’s position that the poll was credible even though she admitted that the voters’ roll was in a shambolic state, Tjipueja said, “There is no clean voters roll in the world, there is no country that can claim to have a clean voters roll.”
Meanwhile the ZEC says counting of votes had been completed at all polling stations around the country and collation has started at ward and constituency levels.
The elections management body said it will be releasing official results as and when they will be coming in through its centres.