ZIMBABWE Election Commission (ZEC) chairperson Priscilla Chigumba has played down electoral shortcomings pointed out by various international observer missions insisting the missions are a minority compared to the “majority who endorsed the country’s elections as free, fair and credible”.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa eclipsed Nelson Chamisa by a razor thin margin – which had to be settled at the Constitutional Court after Chamisa cried foul.
While SADC and the African Union endorsed the elections, the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) led the charge insisting Mnangagwa’s win was supported by an uneven electoral field in which results were neither traceable nor verifiable due to the inability of ZEC in posting results outside all polling stations.
United States based International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Commonwealth Observer mission as well as the Election Resource Centre reiterated that the July 30 vote failed to meet international standards.
The election observer missions declared while Zimbabwe recorded a number of gains in entrenching democracy during the July 30 vote, the improvements were insufficient to demonstrate broad confidence in the process to convince the world that Zimbabwe’s citizens are free to make political choices.
However, Chigumba insisted those were assertions of a few, adding anyway “Rome was not built in a day”.
“The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission appreciates the fact that these observer missions at least acknowledge that the country recorded a number of gains in entrenching democracy during the just ended harmonised elections,” Chigumba told the Mail and Telegraph.
“A lot of effort was applied by the Commission and other stakeholders towards ensuring the enjoyment of political rights by citizens of this country during that period. Rome was not built in a day and as such the Commission remains optimistic that more improvements will be realised in the future which may meet the standards of those observers who had different views from the majority,” she added in apparent reference to SADC and the African Union election observer missions which endorsed the July 30 vote as credible, free and fair.
The election observer missions which gave the Zimbabwe elections a thumps down emphasised that it was critical that government and the opposition remain steadfast in working together to address the electoral shortcomings, to move the country forward.
In particular, the EU EOM in its final report noted that “the misuse of state resources, instances of coercion and intimidation, partisan behaviour by traditional leaders and overt bias in state media all in favour of the ruling party negatively impacted on the democratic character of the pre-electoral environment” needed to done away with if Zimbabwe was to pass the credibility test.
Chigumba said ZEC was committed to instilling greater confidence in the public that the process meets international standards.
She, however, insisted the biggest problem was perception as the country’s electoral processes meet regional and domestic standards.
“The major problem in Zimbabwe regarding elections centres around perceptions. Stakeholders in the electoral arena are unfortunately mainly interested in outfoxing one another for political expediency. However, in so doing, truth has been the major casualty as sometimes falsehoods are peddled and when they are published using modes such as social media, they morph into real news thereby distorting the actual situation on the ground. These tend to create perceptions which in most cases are far from the truth,” she said.
“The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission is reviewing the whole electoral process to see how it can tackle some of these challenges. However, the reality remains that our electoral processes meet regional and domestic standards beginning way back in 2004 when we introduced the SADC Guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections. Since then we are moving in the right direction and we are confident that we will reach the intended destination with time.”
ZEC is currently reviewing the July 30 vote.
“The review process we are currently undertaking will provide the answers. It will alert the Commission of the critical areas to reform and the activities to be undertaken in order to avoid any challenges from the past election. We will come up with recommendations on the requisite changes to the Electoral Act and Regulations. If the recommendations become law through Parliament, we are confident that our Electoral playing field will be significantly improved. However, it is the responsibility of legislators to introduce the necessary legal framework though changes to the law which support the will of the People of Zimbabwe,” she said.
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 six unarmed civilians.
The July 30 vote aftermath has undoubtedly had a bearing on the final reports of a wide array of international election observer missions.