US embassy joins others voicing concern about Zimbabwe election
By Columbus Mavhunga | VOA Zimbabwe |
The U.S. Embassy in Harare joined other election observers Saturday in voicing deep concerns about Zimbabwe’s general election, saying it fell short of the requirements of the country’s constitution and regional guidelines.
Meanwhile, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government and his ruling ZANU-PF party have blasted criticism of the controversy-marred general election.
Zimbabwe’s general election Wednesday did not meet many international standards, Rebecca Archer-Knepper, acting spokesperson at the U. S. Embassy in Harare, told VOA Saturday, but she said Washington hopes Zimbabweans will stay peaceful as the country’s election commission counts votes.
“While the election days were predominantly peaceful, the electoral process thus far did not meet many regional and international standards,” Archer-Knepper said.
“We share the deep concerns expressed by SADC and other international electoral observation missions,” she said, referring to the Southern African Development Community.
The SADC’s preliminary statement on Aug. 25 said the elections “fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act, and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.”
Archer-Knepper said, “These missions cited problems with the transparency, independence, fairness and credibility of electoral processes; undue restrictions on the rights to freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression that are guaranteed by Zimbabwe’s constitution and reflected in regional guidelines; reports of voter intimidation; and the disenfranchisement of candidates, particularly women.
“We are also gravely concerned by the arrest of civil society members that we believe were conducting lawful, nonpartisan election observation work,” she said.
On Wednesday, police took 35 election monitors from the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and Election Resource Centre into custody and charged them with plotting to announce unofficial results. They were released on $200 bail each on Friday.
Election observers, including those from the SADC, condemned the arrests and the confiscation of observers’ computers and cell phones by police, as well as the way the general election was held.
Nevers Mumba, the head of the SADC observer mission to Zimbabwe’s polls, stopped short of calling the general election not credible when he presented the regional bloc’s preliminary report on Friday, but he did raise concerns.
The Zambian national said a $20,000 registration fee for presidential candidates was restrictive. He also noted the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s reluctance to release voter rolls to the opposition on time and criticized the disruption of opposition rallies by police.
Late Friday, Christopher Mutsvangwa, spokesman for the ruling ZANU-PF party, responded to the SADC observers’ criticisms of the elections.
“SADC principles … are not administered by a particular individual who may become a head of a delegation,” Mutsvangwa said. “It is not the duty of a particular individual to arrogate to himself the role of a constitutional review committee of the laws of Zimbabwe.
“So, Mr. Nevers Mumba from Zambia, we call you to order. Don’t delve into the laws of Zimbabwe,” he said.
Zimbabwe Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi expressed support for Mutsvangwa’s statements.
“We waged a war for over 15 years, so that you and I, Zimbabweans here, would be able to hold a pen in our hands and put an ‘X,’ ” he said. “And the majority of those that are making noise never helped us. It’s the blood and sweat of sons and daughters of Zimbabwe.
“So, the basic principle is … we fought for this democracy,” he continued. “We will have elections when they are due. And we have religiously followed that to this day. So, we believe that some of those who want to teach us on democracy, they can actually get lessons from us.”
On Friday, Alexander Rusero, a politics professor at Africa University in Zimbabwe, welcomed the SADC report on the elections.
“Unfortunately, I do not think ZANU-PF is being advised appropriately,” Rusero said.
“There was no way this election was going to be 100% perfect given the irregularities,” he said. “What is important is to celebrate, to say, in spite of all those irregularities, there are still certain positives. … Unfortunately, government strategic department is doing a disservice to the republic of Zimbabwe.”
In the election, President Mnangagwa is seeking a second term, running against 10 candidates, including the main contender, Nelson Chamisa of the Citizens Coalition for Change.
Voting was extended to a second day Thursday after election day was marred by polling station delays and shortages of ballots in opposition strongholds Bulawayo and Harare.
There has been a heavy police presence in Harare since Friday night, ahead of the release of official presidential election results, expected by Monday.