Election Watch 16-2023 - Accreditation of Election Observers

  ELECTION WATCH 16/2023

[18th June 2023]

Accreditation of Election Observers

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has issued a notice inviting persons and organisations wishing to observe the electoral processes, the conduct of polling on polling day and the counting and collation of ballots, to submit their applications to ZEC.  The notice can be accessed on the Veritas website [link].

According to the notice, applications will be considered from the following persons:

  • individuals representing foreign countries or international organisations and foreign eminent persons who have applied to be accepted as observers
  • individuals representing local organisations and eminent persons from within Zimbabwe who have applied to be accepted as observers
  • individuals representing bodies that exercise functions similar to those of ZEC who have been invited by ZEC to observe the election
  • individuals representing foreign countries or international organisations and foreign eminent persons who have been invited by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to observe the election
  • individuals representing local organisations and eminent persons from within Zimbabwe who have been invited by the Minister of Justice to observe the election.

The notice states that applications for accreditation must be made to the Chief Elections Officer and must be received at ZEC Head Office by the 18th August 2023.  Applications will be considered by ZEC’s Observers Accreditation Committee, which will make its recommendations to ZEC.  Applicants will be notified as to whether or not their applications are successful.

Accreditation fees:

The notice sets out the following fees payable for accreditation:

Local observers:

US$10

Observers from the African continent:

US$100

Observers from foreign embassies in Zimbabwe:


US$300

Observers from any country outside Africa:


US$400

Zimbabwe media practitioners accredited with the Zimbabwe Media Commission and working for foreign media houses:




US$100

Zimbabwe local media practitioners accredited with the ZMC:


US$10

Media practitioners from the African continent:


US$100

Comments on the Notice

Applications for accreditation

Contrary to what is said in the notice, not all applications for accreditation are made to the Chief Elections Officer at ZEC’s head office.  Applications from “eminent persons within Zimbabwe” and representatives of local organisations must be made to provincial elections officers who will forward them to the Chief Elections Officer [section 40I(1a) of the Electoral Act].

The Observers Accreditation Committee

The Observers Accreditation Committee is set up by ZEC in terms of section 40H of the Electoral Act and consists of five commissioners, including the chairperson, and five government nominees.  Its function is to make recommendations to ZEC about the accreditation of observers – but not all observers, only the following:

  • representatives of foreign countries or international organisations
  • representatives of local organisations
  • eminent persons
  • representatives of foreign electoral bodies, and
  • individuals who have been invited by a Minister to observe the election.

Applications from other persons, for example freelance journalists, are apparently [it is not very clear] considered by ZEC itself without being referred to the Committee.

Accreditation fees:  exemptions

Some observers do not have to pay accreditation fees.  The exempt ones are observers from:

  • the AU, SADC and COMESA
  • the SADC Parliamentary Forum
  • the Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC
  • electoral bodies in African countries
  • embassies from African countries.

ZEC can also exempt any observers from payment of accreditation fees.  All these exemptions are provided for in section 6 of the Electoral (Accreditation of Observers) Regulations 2013 [link].

Accreditation fees:  validity

The accreditation fees were increased in August last year and shortly afterwards, in Election Watch 2/2022 [link], we questioned the validity of the increases.

In considering their validity the first point to make is that independent election observation is important for the freedom and fairness of elections, to check whether the elections conform to democratic standards enshrined in the Constitution and in regional and international treaties to which Zimbabwe is a party.  Proper election observation enhances the fairness, transparency and credibility of elections and also encourages all parties contesting elections to accept the results.  The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the SADC Principles and Guidelines on Elections both emphasise the importance of independent observers in ensuring that elections are transparent, credible and democratic.  Zimbabwe is a party to both those instruments.

Hence the fees should not discourage local and international organisations from seeking to have their observers accredited.

In Election Watch 2/2022 we noted that the new accreditation fees discriminated between local and foreign observers, even more than the old ones did.  Whereas the fees for accrediting local observers and local media practitioners remained the same at US$10, the fees for accrediting foreign observers from African countries rose fivefold, from US$20 to US$100, and the fees for accrediting foreign observers from non-African countries rose sixfold, from US$50 to US$300 [for embassy staff].

As we pointed out, the discrimination had no rational justification – the cost of accrediting an observer is the same no matter where they come from.  The fees are therefore almost certainly invalid.

To enhance the credibility of the 2023 general elections, ZEC should revert to the old fees.  

 

 

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