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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • SADC must stand firm on Zimbabwe
    Kerry Kennedy
    August 14, 2013

    On July 31, 2013, Zimbabweans took their hopes and aspirations to over 9,000 polling stations across the country to cast their ballots in a highly anticipated election. While many analysts in Zimbabwe and throughout the world predicted a potentially close contest between long time President Robert Mugabe and his chief rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the results proved to be nothing of the sort. Indeed, several days later on August 3, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced that Mugabe had won a historic landslide, securing over 60 percent of the popular vote and his party an overwhelming two-thirds majority in parliament.

    While the proceedings on Election Day were largely peaceful and rightly commended by both domestic and international observers, the myriad legal violations leading up to the vote and mounting irregularities and allegations of voter fraud on Election Day, have provided the international community ample reason to doubt the integrity of the outcome. In March 2013, I led an international delegation to Zimbabwe that documented the concerns of ordinary citizens, including human rights violations against individuals and civil society organizations participating in the electoral process. I heard countless tales of intimidation, harassment, violence, and arbitrary detention of activists, as well as infringements on freedom of expression and access to information. I received a small taste of that repression firsthand, as our hotel rooms were visited by shady state representatives and our delegation stopped, searched, and questioned repeatedly by the police.

    By all accounts, violations of basic political rights and civil liberties continued unabated throughout the electoral process and were not adequately remedied by responsible state authorities. Most troubling is the fact that many credible reports suggest the electoral register was manipulated to provide the Mugabe regime the necessary latitude to unequivocally tilt the election in its favour, with reports that upwards of 1 million deceased voters and 100,000 citizens over the age of 100 remained on the roll. The fact that an electronic form of the register was not made available to the political opposition or to civil society organizations prior to Election Day is wholly unacceptable and a clear violation of domestic law and international electoral standards. On Election Day itself, it is estimated that between 700,000–1 million voters, mainly in areas sympathetic to the opposition, were disenfranchised by being turned away at a range of polling stations.

    In a statement on August 2, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was quick to label the election as “free and peaceful,” though it stopped short of calling the results credible, and for good reason. One civic group has documented nearly 2,000 total breaches of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, a vast majority of which were committed by Zanu-PF officials or affiliated state authorities. Although SADC acknowledged a number of electoral irregularities in its preliminary assessment, the regional body has yet to take a definitive stand on the Zimbabwe issue. Instead of applying its own standards to reach a conclusive and even handed judgment, SADC has undermined the prospects for genuine democracy not only in Zimbabwe, but for the region writ large. With important upcoming elections in South Africa, Malawi, Namibia, and most worryingly Mozambique which is currently experiencing serious political strife, this is no time for SADC to stand idly by or to disregard its own guiding principles.

    The forthcoming SADC Summit in Malawi provides a timely opportunity for regional leaders to hear the concerns of all parties involved in Zimbabwe’s electoral dispute, including domestic civil society and country observation teams. In the long term, this meaningful focus by the full SADC summit will engender some much-needed credibility among citizens of the region and the international community, as it will demonstrate in full public view that it takes serious the concerns of its member states. Put simply, the onus lies on SADC to live up to its own standards of fairness and to guarantee that the principles of justice and the advancement democratic principles thrive in Zimbabwe and throughout the region as well. SADC and its members must redouble its commitment to demand truly free, fair, and credible elections and reject the faulty and disastrous notion that a mere lack of physical violence somehow makes for a credible election.

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