Zimbabwe’s Elections Not Free Or Fair


One way to judge the fairness of Zimbabwe’s elections is by the criteria set out by SADC, which Zimbabwe is a signatory to. The SADC Parliamentary Forum’s Norms and Standards for Election in the SADC Region (adopted March 2001 in Windhoek, Namibia).

A shortlist of the ways in which this election was not free and fair, according to these standards, might include the following. [Statistics were primarily derived from the daily monitoring by several well-trained civic networks, i.e. the Zimbabwean NGO Human Rights Forum (Forum), and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN.)]

1. Voters free to choose whom they will support without intimidation or fear of recrimination;

political deaths: 107 people, primarily MDC supporters, killed by ZANU members or supporters since 26 March 2000; intimidation rose sharply in the two months before the elections; there are an estimated 750,000 internally displaced-presumably most of which were unable to vote given the laws restricting voting to one’s constituency; police direct or indirect involvement in much political violence; abduction, beating and chasing away of MDC polling agents from polling stations during election days (approximately 47% in rural areas, according to the MDC); “militia camps”-118 counted by the Forum. Many international observer reports have confirmed the widespread presence of such bases, often in close proximity to or even at polling stations. Their purpose was believed by observers to restrict political freedom and freedom of movement, and spreading fear amongst the electorate; confiscating of voter IDs and demands for people to have ZANU-PF party cards; forced attendance of ZANU-PF rallies, particularly towards farmworkers (international and domestic observer reports, Forum).

2. Political parties should be free to form, operate, and campaign without restrictions or intimidation;

approximately 75 MDC rallies were cancelled or not allowed, either by the police or local authorities in the area (this left eight MDC rallies, against Mugabe’s eighty); MDC offices were attacked in many parts of the country and their properties damaged, their campaigning materials stolen, and their members and supporters beaten and threatened on an ongoing basis (Forum, ZESN);

3. Independent media should be free to gather and impart information about candidates. State controlled media should contain a fair balance of parties’ views;

since the 2000 elections the Daily News has had its offices bombed twice, and its reporters, distributors and vendors beaten up (Daily News staff, Forum); many parts of the country are considered ‘no-go’ areas for the sale of this independent daily, considered to be strongly aligned with the MDC; the “public” media, in print, radio, and television form, has historically been biased to the ruling party; in the run up to the election, the ruling party held approximately 90% of the airtime on all public media and was always presented in a positive light, while the MDC, capturing approximately 5% of the space, was usually presented in a negative light (Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe);

4. There should be an open and impartial election administration, including voter registration, vote counting and tallying, access to voter lists and early accreditation of independent monitors and observers;

the Electoral Supervisory Commission (ESC) the Registrar General (which actually took the key operational role in the conduct of the elections) and the Elections Directorate were appointed by either the President or the government; none of these three key bodies worked in a transparent manner and crucial information about the election process has either failed to be submitted or has been published very late (The Norwegian Observer Mission); various pieces of last minute legislation, of doubtful legality, were fast-tracked by President Mugabe, overturning a Supreme Court ruling. The changes sought to ensure that the ruling party maintained control over the observation and monitoring process, that postal voting was limited to government officials, and that a “supplementary voters’ roll” could be prepared to cover all of the questionably registered voters; one of these pieces of legislation made it illegal for civil society, or anyone other than the ESC, to conduce voter and civic education; this legislation also outlined that “monitors” could only be restricted to civil servants, an undisclosed number of which were drawn from the ministry of defence; “Observers” from civil society were drastically cut from previous elections, and were only accredited days before the election. Only 400 were eventually accredited from ZESN’s trained 12,000, which could not conceivably cover the 5000 polling stations (also, many were beaten and chased away from polling stations); voters eliminated from postal voting include approximately one million living in South Africa and 400,000 living in the UK; more than 3000 people of previously dual citizenship were stripped of their right to vote by the Registrar General; a 2nd January 2001 draft of the voters’ roll was made available to political parties, but no later version, nor the supplementary voters’ list, was made available for auditing; the deadline for registering to vote changed several times and not clearly communicated to various political parties and civic groups, including the MDC and ZESN. The publicly known date was 27 January, until the Registrar General published a notice dated 1 March extending the deadline for registration to 3 March (Norwegian Observer Report); a severe reduction in urban polling stations (MDC strongholds) ensured that a significant number (some estimate 25,000) urban voters were disenfranchised (According to the Presidential Election 2002: Polling Stations and Presiding Officers Election Notice urban constituencies have an average of 10 polling stations, as opposed to 50 in rural constituencies (Mugabe’s traditional strongholds), and this does not include the mobile counting stations in rural areas, which there are none of in urban);

5. There should be adequate equipment and ballots, secret balloting and impartial administration of balloting;

members of the army and police were required to vote in front of their superiors, prior to election day. Despite a denial by the Minister of Defence, Sydney Sekeramayi, the early voting of army and police was confirmed by Registrar General Mudede; the number of ballot papers printed for the weekend presidential and council elections for Harare and Chitungwiza remains undisclosed. The Registrar General, Tobiaiwa Mudede, described this, as well as the colours of the ballot papers distinguishing council, mayoral, and presidential polls as a “security matter”;

There should be prompt transfer of power to any winners, with adequate and impartial opportunity for dispute resolution.

Most definitely, a prompt transfer of power to the controversial winner; What dispute resolution mechanism?

These are simply the facts. The vast documentation of anecdotal incidences and abuses are overwhelming, and difficult to synthesize and quantify given capacity constraints of civil society. Moreover, the culture of fear that continues to permeate Zimbabwean society makes verification difficult. Four jets hurling over Harare skies for several days prior to, and on Mugabe’s inauguration, is a not-so-gentle reminder to the urban population, about who is in charge. For many Zimbabweans, a six year nap has become tempting.

Strategies for change

What then, are the post-election scenarios? And what strategies are available to national and international actors? This should depend on what Zimbabweans want, as well as on the protocol of free and fair elections agreed to by SADC, to which the Zimbabwean government is a signatory. Successful social change all around the world, and in Africa, has come through direct mass action-i.e. Czechoslovakia, Romania, Cote d’Ivoire and now potentially, Madagascar. This is however, unlikely to occur in Zimbabwe, given the culture of fear amongst Zimbabweans, and economic disparity characterized by 80% poverty, inflation reported at 116% and severe lack of foreign currency and hence, shortage of staple food. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) may try to coordinate a month of “stay-aways” to protest the election process and results. Given this reality, and the MDC’s preoccupation with constitutionalism, the MDC appears to be focusing on a legal approach. Mugabe’s preventive action however, including stacking the courts in his favour, ensures any unfavourable ruling against Mugabe. One would also be hard-pressed to find an African example where a legal approach brought signigicant change. International actors are likely to pursue strategies associated with economic sanctions and pressure to compel the government to adhere to international norms. It is critical however, that these actors understand where and how such strategies play into the ruling party’s information machine. Most Zimbabweans only have access to the state-owned media, which informs them that the international community is responsible for their economic woes, given the sanctions applied against them. Within this context, approaches anchored in international solidarity that give confidence to Zimbabwean society to ably conduct mass civil disobedience appear to be the surest way forward

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