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  • 2002 Presidential & Harare Municipal elections - Index of articles

  • Final report on the Presidential Election in Zimbabwe March 9 - 11, 2002
    Commonwealth Observer Group
    March 2002

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    The March 2002 Presidential elections took place against the backdrop of widespread Commonwealth and international interest in and concern about the situation in Zimbabwe. The Commonwealth has had close and special ties with Zimbabwe over the years. The association was closely involved in the process leading to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 and it was in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, in 1991, that Commonwealth Heads of Government codified the fundamental political values of the association in a landmark document known as the Harare Commonwealth Declaration. Since then the Commonwealth has continued to assist in the strengthening of democracy and in the development of the country.

    A Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) was present in Zimbabwe for the Parliamentary elections on 24-26 June 2000. The Commonwealth has also been working closely with other international partners, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in addressing the land issue and related matters in Zimbabwe.

    Our Group was constituted by the Commonwealth Secretary-General following an invitation from the Government of Zimbabwe. An advance staff team, which visited Zimbabwe from 5 to 10 February, found that the main political parties and civil society groups were agreeable to the presence of Commonwealth observers. The team were also assured by the election management authorities that Commonwealth observers would be able to travel freely to all parts of the country and to talk to whomever they wished, subject to a Code of Conduct for international and domestic observers.

    The Observer Group and its Terms of Reference
    This was the 37th observer Group constituted by the Commonwealth Secretary-General since Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in October 1989 that member states could benefit from an election observer facility, as a means of strengthening democratic processes and institutions. The context for our presence at the Presidential elections in Zimbabwe was set by the principles enshrined in the 1991 Harare Commonwealth Declaration, which include "democracy, human rights, the rule of law and just and honest government".

    The Terms of Reference for our Group were incorporated in the Secretary-General’s letter inviting each of us to participate in the mission in our individual capacity. They are as follows:

    "The Group is established by the Commonwealth Secretary-General at the invitation of the Government of Zimbabwe. It is to observe relevant aspects of the organisation and conduct of the Presidential Election in accordance with the laws of Zimbabwe. It is to consider the various factors impinging on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole and to determine in its own judgement whether the conditions exist for a free expression of will by the electors and if the results of the election reflect the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe.

    The Group is to act impartially and independently. It has no executive role; its function is not to supervise but to observe the process as a whole and to form a judgement accordingly. It would also be free to propose to the authorities concerned such action on institutional, procedural and other matters as would assist the holding of such elections.

    The Group is to submit its report to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, who will forward it to the Government of Zimbabwe, the leadership of the political parties taking part in the election and thereafter to all Commonwealth governments".

    Within the above terms of reference the Group would form an independent judgement, which would in no way represent either the views of any government, or the Office of the Secretary-General.

    The Group was led by General Abdusalami Abubakar, former Head of State of Nigeria, and comprised 42 eminent nationals of Commonwealth member states. The Group was supported by a 19-member Commonwealth Secretariat team led by Mr Jon Sheppard, Director of the Secretariat’s Political Affairs Division. For the first time the Group included representatives of Commonwealth youth organisations.

    Method of Work

    The Advance Group
    Following a formal invitation on 4 February 2002 from the Government of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth Secretary-General for the presence of Commonwealth observers, a five strong team of staff from the Commonwealth Secretariat arrived in Harare on 5-6 February to make arrangements for the arrival of the Observers. In the week up to Sunday 10 February the staff team, led by Jon Sheppard, met the Registrar-General, the Electoral Supervisory Commission, the main parties and a number of NGOs and diplomats. Four of the five staff were accredited as observers on Thursday 7 February and spent some time observing preparations for the elections and the campaign in Harare and rural areas.

    Three ‘Advance Observers’ arrived in Zimbabwe on Friday 8 February and a further three arrived on Monday 11 February. Supported by Commonwealth Secretariat staff, they deployed in four of the country’s nine provinces, including the capital, Harare, where they met with the political parties and civil society groups and also observed the election campaigns.

    The Full Observer Group
    Our full complement of observers arrived in Zimbabwe on 22-23 February and was briefed on the terms of our mission by the Chairperson and the Secretariat team leader. Our Chairperson had himself been briefed in London by the Commonwealth Secretary-General earlier in the month. We held a press conference in Harare on 24 February, at which we issued an Arrival Statement.

    Over the next few days we were engaged in a series of meetings with the Registrar-General, the Chief Elections Officer, the Electoral Supervisory Commission, Commonwealth High Commissioners, senior representatives of political parties contesting the elections, representatives of the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network, civil society, media organisations, war veterans and commercial farmers.

    On Wednesday 27 February we divided into 23 two-person teams and deployed to all 10 provinces of the country. 7 other teams were added in the week prior to the poll. The Chairperson, the Secretariat team leader and 4 other teams were based in Harare. On 2 March the Chairperson and some members of the Group were invited to pay a courtesy call on President Mugabe. The Chairperson also made visits to a number of provinces to assess first hand the state of electoral preparedness in those areas and the political climate in the run-up to the elections. On these visits he met officials, members of the public, representatives of political parties, civil society representatives and also victims of politically motivated violence.

    A meeting was arranged with the Registrar-General to seek clarification on issues of voter registration, citizenship, postal voting and other related matters. The Chairman also wrote to the Chairman of the Electoral Supervisory Commission and the Registrar-General drawing attention to the need for action to deal with the large numbers of voters at polling stations on Saturday 9 March. On Tuesday 12 March the Chairman of our Group called on the Registrar-General in pursuit of these concerns and to discuss progress in the verification and counting of votes.

    On deployment, our teams covered both urban and rural areas. We travelled extensively to familiarise ourselves with our deployment areas, to assess preparedness for the elections and to observe the last days of the campaign. We met local electoral officials, representatives of political parties and independent candidates, local community leaders and observers, representatives of the security forces and other international observers. We attended party rallies and meetings, and observed the training of presiding and polling officers as well as that of monitors. We also observed final preparations for the elections.

    Each team submitted regular reports of their observation to the Chairperson. Between 9 and 11 March we observed voting at approximately 700 polling stations and on 12 March were present for the count at 15 constituency counting centres. During our deployment we were assisted by observation notes and checklists prepared by the Secretariat. Our Group reassembled in Harare on 12/13 March for debriefing, having maintained a continuous presence in Zimbabwe for over a month.

    On 14 March, we issued a Preliminary Report containing our initial assessment of the electoral process. This Report was forwarded to the Commonwealth Secretary-General and released to the public.

    For the report in full, please use one of the downloads listed at the top of this page

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