Harare – President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s hopes of steering Zimbabwe back into the bloc of former Britain colonies has been dealt a hammer blow after the Commonwealth observer mission deemed the recently held elections as not credible.
The Commonwealth observer mission — the first since Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth in 2003 — concluded that it was unable to endorse all aspects of the process as credible, inclusive and peaceful.
Zimbabwe’s elections had largely appeared peaceful before demonstrations broke out in Harare on August 1 amid protest over alleged manipulation of results.
Government responded by deploying military personnel and tanks into the streets who indiscriminately shot and killed at least unarmed three civilians.
The July 30 vote aftermath has undoubtedly had a bearing on the final report.
“The group expressed concern about a number of technical and political shortcomings, which, in its view, unlevelled the playing field,” the Commonwealth said in a statement.
“These issues included the acute bias of state media in favour of the governing party; the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s limitations in the implementation of its mandate; persistent allegations of intimidation; and the unfair use of incumbency privileges. The group further singled out the post-election violence, which resulted in fatalities, noting that it marred the final phase of the elections.
“Because of these shortcomings, the group concluded that it was unable to endorse all aspects of the process as credible, inclusive and peaceful.”
However, the report highlights several positive aspects of the election.
These include “a markedly improved pre-election environment where all parties were generally able to campaign freely; peaceful, well managed and transparent polls on Election Day; and the participation of women as presidential candidates, polling officials, and voters,” the Commonwealth further said.
The group recommended a review of the legal framework to tighten ZEC’s financial and operational independence.
“We believe the legal framework provides the Zec with the flexibility required to build trust in the electoral process. For subsequent elections, we hope the Zec will take full advantage of this flexibility within the confines of the law,” the Commonwealth said.
“Important gains were made in these elections. The markedly improved pre-election environment, where all parties were generally able to campaign freely, is to be commended. The polls on 30 July were conducted in a peaceful manner, and were well managed and transparent. For the first time, four out of a record 23 presidential candidates were women – although more needs to be done to improve women’s political representation in Zimbabwe,” the report said.
“However, the acute bias of the state media in favour of the governing party, the ZEC’s limitations in the implementation of its mandate as identified in this report, persistent allegations of intimidation reported to the group and the unfair use of incumbency privileges, unlevelled the playing field in favour of the governing party.
“The post-election violence, which resulted in fatalities, and the behaviour of security forces, marred this phase of the elections. For these reasons, the Commonwealth Observer Group is unable to endorse all aspects of the process as credible, inclusive and peaceful.”
The report will be considered by the Secretary-General as one aspect of the membership assessment process.