I. Executive Summary
The 30 July polls in Zimbabwe were for the presidency, parliament and local councils - known as the Harmonised Elections - and were the first since the stepping down from power of the former president Robert Mugabe after 37 years in office. Many previous elections have been contentious and with reports of abuses, and so while the commitment to hold credible elections by the interim president was welcomed, a legacy of the past was a low level of trust in the democratic process and institutions, which permeated the electoral environment.
The right to stand was provided for, the elections were competitive and political freedoms during the campaign were respected. On Election Day, voters enjoyed the right to vote and both the campaign and election day were largely peaceful.
However, the right to an effective legal remedy was not adequately provided for, there is no equal suffrage and shortcomings in the registration of voters somewhat compromised universal and equal suffrage. Notably, major shortcomings in the pre-election environment impacted on the free expression of the will of electors, state resources were misused in favour of the incumbent and coverage by state media was heavily biased in favour of the ruling party. Further, the electoral commission lacked full independence and appeared to not always act in an impartial manner. The final results as announced by the Electoral Commission contained numerous errors and lacked adequate traceability, transparency and verifiability. Finally, the restrictions on political freedoms, the excessive use of force by security forces and abuses of human rights in the post-election period undermined the corresponding positive aspects during the pre-election campaign. As such, many aspects of the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe failed to meet international standards.
The election was competitive, with a large number of candidates and political parties contesting all three elections. The campaign was largely peaceful, with freedoms of movement, assembly and expression respected, and both the main presidential candidates held numerous rallies across the country. However, while political rights were largely respected, there were concerns regarding the environment for the polls and the failure to achieve a level playing field. Observers widely reported on efforts to undermine the free expression of the will of electors, through inducements, intimidation and coercion against prospective voters to try to ensure a vote in favour of the ruling party. Such practices also included direct threats of violence, pressure on people to attend rallies, partisan actions by traditional leaders, collection of voter registration slips and other measures to undermine confidence in the secrecy of the vote, manipulation of food aid and agricultural programmes and other misuses of state resources.
The introduction of a number of legal and administrative changes was welcomed, including increasing the number of polling stations, limiting voters to voting only at their registered station, and limiting the number of excess ballots to be printed. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) put in place administrative arrangements for the holding of the 30 July polls as scheduled. However, the potentially positive measures were undermined by ZEC’s persistent lack of inclusivity and transparency. Further, the election management body became embroiled in a number of contentious issues, including the layout of the presidential ballot, modalities for printing and distributing ballots, poor procedures for confirming ballot security between printing and election day and the conduct of postal voting. ZEC also failed to make full or proper use of the
Multi-Party Liaison Committees, particularly at the national and provincial levels. These issues contributed to a deterioration in the relationship between the electoral commission and the opposition in the weeks before the election.
On the day of the election EU observers reported positively on the conduct of voting. Zimbabwean citizens turned out in large numbers and despite some lengthy queues, particularly in hugh density areas, the voting process was managed well by polling officials who worked hard to process voters. Some problems with the voter roll, or lack of voter awareness of their polling location, were evident. Party agents were present in virtually all of the polling places visited by EU observers. However, there appeared to be a high degree of instances of assisted voting in some places. The vote count in polling stations was reasonably well organised, though procedures were not always followed. The result was posted at the polling station in many instances, but not all.
Presidential results announced by ZEC were based on figures from the provincial level. ZEC also provided a CD-ROM with polling station figures set out in excel format. As this was not a presentation of the actual V11 forms from each polling station, the CD-ROM did not provide the level of transparency, traceability and verifiability which was hoped for and which could have been achieved. Further, the figures presented by ZEC in the CD-ROM contained a large number of errors and inaccuracies. While these may not bring in to question the outcome per se, the errors do raise enough questions to have doubt as to the exact accuracy and reliability of the figures presented. The information provided by ZEC attests to a lack of quality control in its work, notably given that this was such a critical aspect of the elections. It is also notable that the provinces with the highest margin of votes in favour of the ruling party have been the areas with the highest number of reports of “smart intimidation”, misuse of state resources, involvement of traditional leaders and other electoral malpractices
While the country stayed generally calm after polling, tension in Harare increased dramatically as the first parliamentary results indicated a clear lead for the ruling ZANU-PF. The fact that presidential results were not being released added to speculation and tensions. Before the announcement of official results by ZEC, MDC-A leaders started claiming that their party had won and that at least the presidential elections had been rigged. On 1 August a demonstration in the vicinity of the ZEC command centre was met with the deployment of military units. Soldiers fired live rounds into the crowd leaving at least six people dead and 14 injured. The MDC-A headquarters was also raided, and 27 persons, reportedly engaged on the MDC-Alliance’s vote tabulation, were arrested and computer equipment was seized, and to-date has not been released.
Following the declaration of results, there were reports of violence, and human rights defenders documented over 150 human rights violations between 1-7 August, including retributive acts against supporters, agents and candidates of the opposition. Reports of such of such acts persisted in the post-election phase. The legal challenge against the presidential results by Nelson Chamisa, presidential candidate for MDC-Alliance, was handled in a timely and transparent manner, but was rejected by the court on the basis that their claims were unproven. While ZEC’s poor management of the results may have opened up the process to a degree of legal jeopardy, the case brought by Chamisa did not adequately prove the case for a substantial change of the result. However, many of the claims regarding problems during the pre-election period and many of the procedural errors in ZEC’s management of the results had varying degrees of validity.
Based on EU EOM monitoring, the state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, failed to abide by its legal obligation to ensure equitable and fair treatment to all political parties and candidates. State-owned TV, radio and newspapers, which dominate the media landscape, were heavily biased in favour of the ruling party and incumbent president in their election-related coverage. Media operated in a generally free environment during the campaign and freedom of expression was respected.
The legal framework provides for key rights and freedoms for the conduct of competitive elections. However, shortcomings in the Electoral Act and the absence of campaign finance regulations limit the integrity, transparency and accountability of the process. Furthermore, delays in adjudication, dismissal of court cases on merely technical grounds and a number of controversial judgments compromised the right to an effective legal remedy.
The switch to biometric voter registration so close to the election was a major challenge for ZEC, which assumed responsibility for the roll for the first time. Data indicates a capture rate of 78.6% of the estimated eligible population, though with lower levels of registration in urban areas and a number of errors which remain to be resolved. The manner of sharing the voter roll with stakeholders proved contentious and, while acknowledging the effort ZEC made in undertaking the biometric registration, its lack of transparency and failure to provide clear and coherent information about voter registration overall added to a sense of mistrust by stakeholders.
In the direct election for the National Assembly, only 14.75% of candidates were women and women were nominated in just 126 of the 210 seats. But by virtue of the additional proportional list system for the Assembly, which is a temporary constitutional measure, women will represent some 33% representation in the parliament overall.
1. ZECs independence needs to be strengthened, free from governmental oversight in the approval of its regulations.
2. ZEC must provide effective and timely information on all steps of the electoral preparations, making all information of public interest, including ZEC resolutions and verifiable polling station level results, immediately and easily accessible.
3. Voter registration needs to be enhanced in “under registered” districts of the country to
ensure universal and equal suffrage.
4. Legal measures should be introduced to mitigate abuse of the advantage of incumbency and abuse of state resources
5. State-owned media must abide by their legal obligation to be impartial and provide equitable treatment to all political parties and candidates.
6. The results management process needs to be more coherent and fully explained to all stakeholders well in advance of the polls in order to enhance transparency, verifiability and integrity of the results process.
7. The process of aligning the Electoral Act with the 2013 Constitution needs to be pursued and completed.
8. Develop regulation of political party financing to promote accountability and transparency
and as a key step towards creating a level playing field between political parties.
9. Procedures for the security of the ballot from printing, deployment to polling stations and on Election Day should be reviewed and procedures clearly announced for future elections.
10. Multi-Party Liaison Committees should be a regular feature of inter-party dialogue throughout the entire electoral cycle, to be an effective conflict resolution tool for political
parties and to provide an effective forum for reporting on non-compliance with the Code.