Report by Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
A considerable lowering of electoral standards by the regional bloc saw Zimbabwe getting a seal of approval from the Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s election observer mission (SEOM) on September 2, 2013 following a verdict that the Zimbabwe harmonized election was ‘generally credible’.
Fairness as an electoral standard apparently fell away to accommodate ‘generally credible’ as a yardstick for the harmonized elections that Zimbabwe held with the SEOM report ending on a congratulatory stating:
“SEOM congratulates ZEC and the people of Zimbabwe for holding a free, peaceful and generally credible harmonized elections of July 2013 in which the will of the people was expressed”
Tanzanian Foreign Minister, Bernard Membe, who was Head of Delegation of SADC Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) representing Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, summed up the verdict on the Zimbabwean polls thus:
“This election was generally credible. On the question of fairness, it is difficult to say it was fair.”
Addressing at a press briefing – which was attended by the outgoing Zimbabwe Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengwegwi, Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) Chairperson Rita Makarau, some member’s civil society and the press – Membe conceded that “the credibility of the election process” has been met with negative evaluations, but maintained that the verdict on Zimbabwe took cognizance of the fact that “there were so many other elements that when put together elevated the election to a credible status” particularly when measured against the 2008 elections.
Analysts expressed concern over this emphasis on comparing and contrasting the 31 July harmonized poll to the 2008 elections saying an election should be measured against SADC standards governing elections and not measured against the elections preceding it.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) Spokesperson Thabani Nyoni said SADC had lowered standards and the development warranted that Zimbabwe and SADC citizens unite in calling for genuine democracy.
“The SADC final report on elections in Zimbabwe is a clear message to the citizens of Zimbabwe and SADC that our leaders are not interested in the full expression of the will of the people through free, fair and credible elections. The position of the observer team confirms that the region is sliding towards democratic regression rather than democratic progress,” Nyoni said.
Tawanda Chimhini, the director of Election Resource Centre (ERC), said electoral standards in Zimbabwe had been lowered “unfortunately not by Zimbabweans but by the region itself” adding that it “is a tragedy not only for Zimbabwe”, but the entire region considering that seven SADC countries are holding elections by 2014.
“The fact that the regional body has not fully explored the absence of fairness in this poll but are still prepared to accept it, suggests that standards for elections in Zimbabwe have been lowered.
“Had SADC remained faithful to the established SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing the Conduct of Democratic Elections in making their assessment of the harmonized elections, the regional body could have found it difficult to accept the July 31 2013 polls as credible, let alone being a reflection of the will of Zimbabweans,” Chimhini said.
Minister Membe at the press Briefing only presented a Summary statement, saying the full report could not be made available because of logistical problems related to the inauguration of a new SADC Executive Secretary, Tanzanian woman, Stergomena Tax, on September 1, 2013. Membe promised that the secretariat would be in Zimbabwe soon with the report to distribute it to stakeholders.
Commenting on the same issue, the outgoing Minister for Education, David Coltart says Zimbabwe’s elections failed miserably to meet the three key guidelines set out in the SADC Guidelines on Elections, namely:
2.1.5 Equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media;
2.1.6 Equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for;
2.1.7 Independence of the Judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions;
NB: Credit is given to the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and David Coltart for the views in this article.