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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • ZLHR pre-election 2013 statement
    Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
    July 30
    , 2013

    Less than 24 hours remain before our country proceeds to what are arguably the most significant elections since the polls that ushered in independence, freedom and a new and long fought-for era of respect for human dignity and the right to “One Man and Woman, One Vote”. The curtains are coming down on a five-year Global Political Agreement (GPA) that, to a large extent, restored some sense of economic and political stability and through which political parties in Parliament, under the watchful eye of SADC and AU, undertook to facilitate reforms and an environment conducive to a credible, free and fair election in which the will of the people would be respected.

    We must not lose sight of where we have come from – an environment of life-threatening shortages of food, health care, and functional education facilities, where the most vulnerable in our society lost their lives, homes and livelihoods due to the lack of social and economic justice, as well as intolerance of diverse political views, manifested in grave human rights violations, ravaged state institutions and ever-escalating impunity.

    Whilst we must be ever-conscious of our difficult past, however, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to ensure that we constantly strive to improve our political environment, strengthen our state institutions and hold them accountable, and facilitate processes that instill in the Zimbabwean public the confidence that any person, without discrimination, can participate in the governance of their country without fear of violence, without the threat of retribution for what they express and who they support, without unjustifiable barriers to their right to elect representatives of their choice, and with confidence that state institutions will display integrity and professionalism in allowing the will of the people to be heard and respected.

    It is within this framework that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has sought to undertake its mandate of upholding respect for the rule of law and the unimpeded administration of justice, free and fair elections and the protection of constitutional rights and freedoms in the pre-election period, and we express ourselves as follows (with more detail to be found in the main pre-election report):

    On the obtaining political and operating environment in Zimbabwe, ZLHR has noted that:

    In general, the lead-up to the 2013 elections has been characterised by lower levels of overt violence than the period preceding the March 2008 election and the period before the June 2008 presidential election run-off. Political party representatives, as well as their supporters, have displayed growing levels of maturity in their interactions with each other; this is to be welcomed and further encouraged and nurtured.

    ZLHR notes, however, continued incidences of intimidation and politically-motivated violence, particularly in rural and remote constituencies, and high density and peri-urban areas where traditional leaders and political party youths respectively have allowed themselves to be used by powerful politicians with means for their personal and party-political agendas of power retention, leading to inter-party violence and rights violations. So too, cases of intra-party violence and rights violations have regrettably been documented across the political divide. Intolerance and the resort to violence have unfortunately become part of the fabric of our society and there is need for continued efforts to be made to encourage conflict-prevention and resolution initiatives wherever it has manifested.

    What has been of more concern in the pre-election period is the nuanced, strategic and malevolently intentional targeting of political activists and human rights defenders (HRDs) in efforts to undermine and disrupt their activities. As such, ZLHR has recorded increased instances in which mobilisers, educators, human rights monitors and those providing critical legal and psychosocial support services have been intentionally sought out for intimidation, harassment and attack.

    Key political mobilisers have been, and continue to be, subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention and drawn-out trials in efforts to remove them from their constituencies at critical times in the run-up to elections. Civil society organisations (CSOs) – the watchdogs of society - have faced raids under the cover of search warrants of questionable legality; confiscation of documentation; unjustified threats and intimidation by senior law enforcement agents; criminalisation of their lawful activities; selective application of repressive and unreformed laws; malicious prosecutions; and abuse through politicised institutions. Such violations – and their impact on a conducive electoral environment - cannot and must not be ignored, as their effect has been to disrupt ordinary functioning of the affected organisations as they struggle to defend themselves at the expense of delivering on their critical mandate within a justice delivery system that is stacked against them and that does not inspire public confidence in its operations, independence, professionalism and effectiveness.

    Greater efforts are required to ensure that the government respects the rights of political activists to participate in the government of their country across the political divide, and facilitate a conducive legislative and operating environment for HRDs and CSOs who perform a critical watchdog role and whose rights to exist and operate are protected under the Constitution of Zimbabwe, as well as regional and international instruments to which Zimbabwe has voluntarily bound itself.

    Undertakings made in the GPA to de-politicise state institutions have failed to materialise and more efforts are needed to ensure meaningful reforms so that trust and public confidence is restored in key state institutions that protect and serve the public and deliver justice to all impartially and without fear or favour.

    On the imposition of a 31 July 2013 election date:

    ZLHR is of the considered view that the imposition of the 31 July 2013 election date by way of presidential decree usurped the role and function of Parliament and the investment made by the region and continent in the GPA. It destabilised the Inclusive Government (IG), and could easily have had the effect of destroying the considerable efforts made to ensure continued peace in the country on its way to fresh elections. ZLHR has always fought to support the principle of respect for the independence of the judiciary and the decision and judgment of the Constitutional Court remains binding; nevertheless, the judgment had the unfortunate effect of triggering the series of infringements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe that have ensued – a situation that is regrettable at the start of a new constitutional dispensation.

    On electoral institutions and processes thus far, ZLHR maintains that:

    Insufficient reforms were undertaken during the life of the IG at the level of the secretariat of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and within the office of the Registrar-General (R-G) to ensure institutional and individual independence, effectiveness, efficiency, and public confidence.

    It is common cause that both of these institutions, in the past, have presided over election-related processes that have been highly controversial and contested. As such, there is need to de-personalise the debate and encourage those involved to see that, without transparency in operations, and a public process of reform and institutional strengthening, there is limited to no expectation that public confidence can be easily or quickly restored in such institutions. Those at the helm of these state organs must therefore not expect that their mere presence thereat will be a panacea to our troubles.

    The ZEC displayed a general sense of unwillingness to accept assistance in the process of voter education, despite the substantive changes to our electoral system and the confusion that abounded in the wake of the fast-tracked election date.

    There was a general failure to undertake a comprehensive special and intensive voter registration exercise in compliance with the Constitution, leading to a situation where a large portion of eligible voters remained unregistered and therefore disenfranchised at the time the voters’ roll was closed for the imminent election.

    No measures were put in place to allow prisoners, the elderly, and those in other institutions such as medical facilities to vote. There was, at the very least, a public perception that our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora are less Zimbabwean than election officers and members of the disciplined forces and therefore no effort should be made to allow them to participate whilst extraordinary measures could and were taken to allow the latter to vote even in violation of the Constitution and clear electoral laws.

    The unwillingness by the R-G and ZEC to comply with the law and allow access to the final voters’ roll until such time as access was rendered meaningless has undermined the credibility of the electoral process. On the eve of elections, interested parties have not seen a consolidated voters’ roll, in violation of the law. It is no secret that the integrity of the voters’ roll has been in dispute for a very long period of time. Failure of ZEC and the R-G’s office to address these concerns, and even worsen the situation by not releasing the roll in good time as is required by law, has only served to worsen the situation and reinforce public fears that something is being hidden and/or manipulation and fraud may be at play. Further revelations that the printing of ballot papers was now being handled by the police – information that was released far too late for any concerns to be raised, addressed and corrective action to be taken – will be the most difficult hurdle to overcome in ensuring public confidence and acceptance in the results of the vote.

    The extreme delays in publishing a definitive list of polling stations and failure to address concerns about the adequacy of the number of such polling stations in each ward in relation to the high numbers of voters purportedly registered for these elections, and the perceived unwillingness to provide numbers and details of those approved to vote by special and postal vote contributed to concerns around transparency, accountability and willingness and ability to facilitate a credible, free and fair election. The ultimate blow was evidenced in the shambolic special vote, for which ZEC must take full responsibility in terms of the law.

    One must sympathise with the electoral management body in the face of all these hurdles and the pressure to deliver a credible poll in the face of an imposed fast-track date, limited resources and personnel; however, many of these challenges, taken separately or together, have not been outside their control to remedy.

    The time has come for those in our state institutions to stand firm and refuse to be pressured by the executive in order to restore their credibility and the public’s confidence that they are institutions of public service, rather than party political structures.

    Until such time as there is instilled in these institutions and their personnel courage and ability to overcome their fear, coupled with the realization that they must operate transparently, provide information timeously, and comply strictly with the letter of the law, it cannot be expected that the public mood and suspicions will be altered.

    On the role of the public media, ZLHR states that:

    The so-called public broadcaster and the state-controlled print media can only be described as a disgrace in the run-up to the elections, particularly over the last few weeks. Not only has the coverage been one-sided and a total violation of the Constitution and electoral laws, but reportage has been replete with outright falsehoods, hate-speech and inciting language and content. Neither ZEC nor the Zimbabwe Media Commission have taken adequate and strong steps to stem this worrying situation and ensure that media practitioners produce factual, balanced and ethical content for the diversity of the Zimbabwean population. The media will continue to play a critical role in providing information and opinion on Election Day and in the days following the polls. They have a great power to reduce tension or to inflame the situation in such a manner that could precipitate instability and grave human rights violations. It remains to be seen which path media practitioners will take, but we encourage them to behave responsibly, immediately depoliticise their behaviour and reportage and contribute in this manner to conflict prevention and reduction for the good of our nation.

    On upcoming processes relating to Election Day and beyond, ZLHR cautions that:

    There is need to ensure maximum compliance with the letter of the law and strictly adhere to the Constitution. ZEC must anticipate and provide ahead of time for prevention of these conflict areas:

    • Access by duly accredited election agents and observers to all and any polling stations, ward centres, constituency centres, provincial centres and the national and presidential centres on Election Day and up to the announcement of all results;
    • Provision, upon request, of information relating to the voters’ roll, list of assisted voters and spoilt ballots, special votes and postal ballots;
    • Maximum cooperation by presiding officers and polling agents to ensure that registered voters are able to exercise their fundamental right to vote, and every effort to ensure that those registered but whose names may not appear on the roll are allowed to vote on production of their national identity document and proof of registration as voters;
    • Posting at all polling stations and all centres, of information and tallies relating to votes cast for the presidential, parliamentary and local council seats, as well as those seats that will be decided by way of proportional representation. These must be located in places easily accessible to the public at all times, even after the stations and centres have closed. Law enforcement agents and polling officers must also be instructed to ensure that they do not prevent public access to such information and to exercise restraint and so ensure that public anxiety is allayed at this critical time;
    • Swift, transparent counting of votes and announcement of results for all elections, within (and where possible before) the time limits prescribed as maximum periods before announcement;
    • Public confirmation that all voters wishing to cast their ballots will be allowed to do so and constant monitoring of the situation in order to assess whether there will be need to extend the period for voting in the event of high voter turnout

    ZLHR recognises the immense historic importance of this election and its accredited observers and legal teams will do everything within their means as responsible citizens to assist in facilitating a credible, free and fair election. This is a national responsibility that we do not take lightly. Although there have been some serious challenges to the process thus far, as outlined previously and in the main Pre-Election Report, we believe that a high voter turnout and a determined electorate can still show by their numbers, tenacity and resolve that their vote will be heard and their will respected. We encourage all registered voters to exercise their right for the candidates of their choice, in a responsible manner, and without violence, intimidation and reprisals. We have only one Zimbabwe, and it belongs to all of us. It must not be usurped by politicians, those with resources, power and prestige, and certainly not by a select few in personalised state institutions. We must all put our selfishness aside in favour of being responsible, selfless and loving citizens and we must do all within our power to ensure stability, peace, and respect for each other and our country in the hours and days ahead.

    God bless Zimbabwe and protect all her people in this national endeavour.

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