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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • New Constitution-making process - Index of articles


  • Constitutional Referendum interim report
    Election Resource Centre
    March 20, 2013

    Introduction

    The Election Resource Centre (ERC) is a non-profit making organisation which was established in January 2010 to service the needs of election stakeholders in Zimbabwe. The Election Resource Centre is an independent electoral institution which aims at strengthening the capacity of election stakeholders to meaningfully engage in the election processes.

    Apart from its conventional programming the ERC establishes domestic observer missions towards every given electoral event. In this instance the organization has embarked on a mission to monitor the constitutional referendum which was conducted on the 16th of March 2013.

    Purpose of Observer Mission

    • To assess the pre-referendum environment
    • To observe the actual day of voting in terms of the voting procedures, counting and transmission of results
    • To record and observe any voting irregularities before and during the referendum
    • To observe and report on any polls related violence

    Methodology

    The Elections Resource Centre (ERC) deployed 30 accredited observers and voters’ clubs members who covered all the country’s 210 constituencies. The observers assessed the pre-referendum period, the referendum and post referendum period. In addition to the accredited observers, the ERC also relied on information gathered and supplied by its unaccredited citizen monitors situated in all the country's 210 constituencies. Such citizen monitors would give constant near-real time updates on unfolding election related events which had potential to disturb the conduct of the election. Such information was relayed through SMS or Whatsapp, calls and feeds on e-mail and processed into reports on the electoral environment.

    Pre-referendum Assessment

    The pre-referendum period was largely peaceful but was punctuated by an upsurge in attacks on civil society organizations which witnessed raids and searches at the Zimbabwe Peace Project, ZimRights, ZESN, NYDT and Radio Dialogue. Such attacks on civil society impeded the ability of the CSOs to freely provide their services to the citizenry, and can stifle information to the communities especially as it relates to the referendum.

    Key Findings

    • Voter Education - ZEC embarked on a voter education outreach programme meant to inform prospective voters of the requirements and places where people were going to cast their votes. The outreach meetings started on the 6th of March and were conducted until the 13th of March 2013 with ZEC deploying 2 voter educators per ward. Clearly the time allocated for voter education exercise was inadequate and indeed not far reaching. Consequently the referendum was marred by the following unfortunate incidences:
      • People bringing unsuitable forms of identification like drivers' licences, expired passports, photocopies of IDs and even business cards. This resulted in prospective voters to be turned away.
      • The lack of adequate voter education also resulted into spoilt ballots which could have been avoided had there been adequate voter information prior to the election.
      • A significant number of voters did not understand the difference between a referendum and the general election.
      • A number of aliens, who by current law are not eligible to vote, found themselves in queues intending to vote before inevitably being turned away.
    • Voting - Our observers on the ground reported that voting proceeded smoothly, with most of the polling stations opening up on time for voting and closing on time, albeit there were reports of one polling station opening at 10.30am and closing at 10.30pm at Caledonia. However the increase in the number of polling stations widened access to the voting facilities. Voters were taking an average of 3 minutes to complete the voting process. Generally, the voting process was easy to navigate and the ERC commends the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission for conducting a smooth voting process.
    • Voting Environment - While voting was widely peaceful and orderly, there were however isolated reports of violence and arrests in certain parts of the country. There were reports on acts of coercion in Epworth and Muzarabani. Villagers and residents were being forced to go and vote and threatened with unspecified action if they do not comply. In Chakari, our observers reported that 7 ZANU PF youth were turned away from a polling station for attempting to vote while wearing party regalia, and reportedly assaulted an MDC-T supporter on their way from the polling station. There were also reports of arrests in Harare, Glen View and Kariba. It is however commendable that the referendum was largely conducted in a largely peaceful environment; but the isolated cases of violence and intimidation have the potential to dent the credibility of the referendum.
    • Administrative Framework - Our observers reported disorder in the form of shortage of ballot papers in areas such as Ntabazinduna in Matabeleland North and Bulawayo East. There were reports of lack of adequate visible signs to direct voters to most polling stations. Such administrative oversights are an indictment on the part of ZEC and its capacity to implement logistics related to the conduct of elections, especially coming against the background of ZEC having printed excessive ballot papers for the plebiscite.
    • Counting - The ERC received reports of anomalies in the counting and collation of results processes. For instance, the ERC received reports from its observers that all observers present at New Hall Command Centre in Glen View South Constituency were asked to vacate the facility when counting began. Mr. Maenzanise, the Returning Officer at the said counting centre further informed observers that they were not at liberty to either disclose or display the results as they were being channelled directly to the national command centre.
    • The mentioned Returning Officer reportedly hinted to the observers that it is his exclusive discretion to make public or not, results from the collation centre concerned. Such utterances are clearly contrary to the provisions of electoral legislation and regulations. It was further reported that at some polling stations in Nyami Nyami, Seke and Mt Pleasant, results were not being displayed at polling stations; rather they were being channelled directly to their respective collation centres. The ERC notes that such conduct negates the provisions of the Referendums Regulations (Statutory Instrument 26 of 2013) together with the Electoral Act (Chapter 2.13) requiring every Returning Officer to “upon completion of the constituency collation return, affix a copy of the constituency collation return outside the constituency collation centre.”
    • Police presence inside polling stations - Our observers nationwide noted a worryingly heavy presence of police in and around polling stations. Some reports indicated that the police officers at some polling stations were actively involved in the polling processes. More worrying is the fact that most of the police details were present in the polling stations – police should be stationed outside the polling stations to maintain law and order. Their presence inside polling stations has the potential to cause anxiety amongst the voters.
    • Election Officials - The ERC also observed that some election officials were not aware of the laws and regulations governing the conduct of the referendum. This was invariably exhibited at various polling centres as some polling officials either through commission or omission did the following:
      • Returning officers chasing away observers at counting
      • Returning officers refusing to display results at the polling centres
      • Returning officers refusing to give copies of results to accredited observers at the polling centres
      • Some referendum officials did not understand the role of the observers

    Recommendations

    1. The ERC therefore calls upon election administrators to exercise consistency in the observance of electoral regulations, which inevitably would limit suspicions of manipulation of the electoral outcomes.

    2. Call on the state institutions charged with maintaining law and order to fulfil their mandate impartially and in manner that instills confidence in the electorate

    3. Urge ZEC to plan more effectively its administration of the electoral processes so that it is able to confront unforeseen events like floods and accidents as well as shortage of voting material

    4. Call on ZEC to make sure that in future polls, adequate time and resources is allocated to voter education so as to reduce rejected votes and increase voter turnout.

    5. That all observers willing to observe future elections must be given accreditation without unreasonable limitations.

    6. There is need to ensure officials deployed to polling centres are adequately trained and fully understand the scope of their work and corresponding laws and regulations governing the conduct of elections.

    In view of the above, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) considers the March 2013 Referendum to have been conducted in a largely peaceful, transparent and credible manner.

    Visit the Election Resource Centre fact sheet

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