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Observers remain vital to Zimbabwe’s electoral processes
March 14, 2013
The past few
weeks have witnessed an upsurge within the government corridors
around the discourse on the involvement of international observers
and their anticipated role in the watershed general elections expected
in Zimbabwe this year. Concurrently, ZEC has sparked outrage
within civil society over its decision to bar Zimbabwe
Human Rights Association (ZimRights) from observing
the coming referendum.
Speaking to mourners gathered at the National Heroes Acre for the
burial of the late liberation war hero, Ambassador John Mayowe,
Vice President and then Acting President, Joyce Mujuru asserted
that Zimbabwe will not play host to international observers, particularly
the European Union and the United States of America , ostensibly
because they are hostile to Zimbabwe.
Repeating the same mantra in Harare last week was Foreign Affairs
Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, after meeting the Danish Foreign
Affairs Secretary. A feisty Mumbengegwi boldly declared that European
Union and United States observers will not be allowed to observe
the elections in Zimbabwe. He contends that their ‘objectivity
is up in smoke’ because they imposed sanctions on one of the
sides contesting the elections.
At the moment, civil society coalitions are potentially heading
towards a collision course with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission
over the exclusion of ZimRights from observing the referendum. The
Election Resource Centre (ERC) reiterates and amplifies the position
of civil society coalitions, who remain convinced that ‘ZEC
with respect to their independence and mandate to accredit observers,
have no right to set aside constitutionally enshrined provisions
and values around the presumption of innocence when deciding who
can or cannot observe the referendum and other electoral processes’.
There have been other muted calls by other players within the inclusive
government to deny such claims, notably Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga
who was quoted in Gweru arguing that Mujuru’s utterances are
just that – utterances, and that the government has not reached
consensus on that sticky issue. But we have heard such lines before!
The end game is almost predictable.
Be it as it may, the ERC urges the government of Zimbabwe to allow
election observers interested in observing Zimbabwe’s electoral
processes to take part in the process. We are of the considered
view that the participation of these observers, including the European
Union and the United States will be good for the electoral processes
in Zimbabwe and will further enhance the transparency, openness
and credibility of such in the eyes of the whole world. Observers
play an important role and having observer teams from all parts
of the world will only enhance our electoral integrity and improve
how we conduct our future elections. Observers play the following
good practices. Electoral administrators, politicians and national
observers can learn to better understand international standards
for free and fair elections by cooperating with the international
observers and studying their reports. International observer missions
provide electoral administrators the opportunity to exchange professional
knowledge with other experts, particularly on integrity mechanisms
used in other systems.
integrity problems. The presence of international observers monitoring
the election process may deter attempts to disrupt or tamper with
the process. There is a public perception in most countries that
international observers will be able to uncover fraud or any other
irregularities that may occur on Election Day.
integrity problems. Experienced observers can detect problems
or questionable activities, and bring them to the attention of
the election management body and the public. Early detection allows
problems to be resolved timely.
- Holding a
fragile process together. In situations of conflict or in countries
in transition, the presence of international observers can to
some extent deter the use of violence and intimidation. Their
ongoing presence reassures candidates, monitors and voters that
it is safe to participate. Their presence may also convince opposition
politicians that competing in the election is preferable to engaging
in civil disobedience or violence.
the credibility and legitimacy of the process. Through their reporting
and analysis, observers can confirm or deny the legitimacy of
the electoral process and its outcome. If their reports show that
the election is proceeding within acceptable parameters, this
finding reinforces the viability of the process and the legitimacy
of the results.
the capacity of national observers. If international observation
is linked with national observation, international observers can
help develop and improve the capacity of local observation efforts.
For example, they can provide guidance on setting up a nationwide
election observation effort, conducting a parallel count and analyzing
field observation reports.
The ERC acknowledges
the fact that observers are guided by regulations, and have to respect
the sovereignty of the host country, the laws of the host country
and the rules of its election management body. International observers
have to be objective and accurate and avoid interfering in the election
Granted, it then becomes vital for Zimbabwe to allow all international
observers to participate in the observance of Zimbabwe’s elections
and indeed local organizations interested in doing the same.
emerging from a disputed 2008 June Presidential run-off which was
allegedly marred by excessive
violence, abductions, killings and unlawful detentions. The
previous elections were also tainted by allegations of vote rigging
and many other forms of electoral malpractices. The Global
Political Agreement (GPA) was and is still an attempt to correct
these anomalies and heinous practices. It is an attempt by SADC
and the African Union and indeed the rest of the world to ensure
that Zimbabwe is persuaded and made to conduct free and fair elections,
devoid of violence, intimidation and allegations of vote rigging.
It is an attempt to break away from the past and such a positive
transformation might need to be witnessed by all interested stakeholders
including the community of nations and other international actors.
If the major thrust of the GPA is to ensure the conduct of free
and fair elections that are internationally accepted, then it is
in the best interests of Zimbabwe to allow international observers
to participate in the forthcoming elections. The presence of international
observers will without doubt prove to the entire world that the
transitional period has inculcated the desire to practice good electoral
conduct on both the election management bodies and the contesting
candidates or political formations.
The ERC therefore urges the political leadership in the GPA to seriously
consider the importance of involving all interested stakeholders
in the post transitional General Elections expected in 2013. Such
action shall inevitably bestow the much needed legitimacy on both
the electoral process and the leaders emerging from such a process.
the Election Resource Centre
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