Foreign election observers have applauded Zimbabwe for holding its first harmonised election in the post-Mugabe era in a peaceful, professional and free manner, highlighting political maturity and tolerance.
As the foreign observers were commending the peaceful political environment prior to and during the election, youths aligned to the opposition party MDC Alliance were demonstrating against ZEC, alleging that the results the commission had announced were not credible.
This resulted in running battles with the police in the streets of Harare as the youths blocked roads with stones, burned vehicles and destroyed shops. The army had to intervene to restore calm in the capital city.
Presenting their preliminary statements in Harare on Wednesday, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Parliamentary Forum, the African Union (AU) , the Southern African Development Community Observation Mission (SEOM) said the post election period, during and immediately after the election period was peaceful and elections were conducted under an improved legal framework.
AU head of observer mission, Hailemariam Desalegn, applauded Zimbabwe for conducting the elections in a peaceful manner as compared to previous years.
“The election took place generally in a peaceful and calm environment with no major incidents of violence and restriction on the activities of political parties and candidates observed. The process was highly competitive as evidenced by the high number of presidential, national assembly and local authorities candidates. As an indication of the marked improvement in political space, the AUEOM notes a very low threshold requirement for registration of political parties and candidates to contest the elections.
“Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections were conducted under an improved legal framework consisting of the 2013 constitution, the Electoral Act, other Acts and legislation, rulers and regulations promulgated by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). Some of the improvements noted in the legal framework that the AUEOM notes include the new 2013 constitution provides a comprehensive framework to govern the election, the new Electoral Act and various regulations supplemented and streamlined electoral dispute resolution by establishing the electoral court with exclusive jurisdiction to hear electoral appeals, applications and petitions,” said Desalegn.
COMESA elections observer mission head Ambassador Ashraf Rashed said despite a few challenges faced by ZEC, the election environment was fairly calm.
“The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) was able to effectively conduct the elections despite some challenges as well as allegations raised during the pre-election assessment mission, that in our view largely emanated from mistrust and lack of confidence in the electoral process due to past experiences. The mission observed a significant improvement in the current electoral process as compared to previous elections. In general, the election took place in an orderly, calm and peaceful environment,” he said.
Ambassador Rashed also commended political parties for conducting their election campaigns peacefully.
“The mission observed that campaigns were peaceful compared to previous elections, notwithstanding some acts of violence, particularly during party primaries. Candidates had the opportunity to campaign freely and made use of the significant political space which was noted during the elections. In addition, the mission appreciates the progress made in the implementation of the new provisions of the Electoral Act. The establishment of the inter-party dialogue to promote engagement among political parties with the aim of reaching consensus,” he said.
Electoral Commissions Forum of SADC Countries (ECF-SADC) Justice Semistocles Kaijage congratulated Zimbabweans on the manner they conducted themselves during the electoral period.
“The ECF-SADC mission commends Zimbabwe Electoral Commission for their efforts in managing the harmonised elections and mobilising voters to participate. The contesting political parties are commended for their role in the electoral period. They showed a spirit of tolerance and ensured that their supporters remained calm and restrained throughout the electioneering process,” he said.
The SADC Parliamentary Forum election observer mission head Dr Matibini commended Zimbabweans for the peaceful and conducive environment in which the elections were held.
“The mission observed the following as good practices from 2018 Zimbabwe harmonised elections. Mature and tolerant manner in which Zimbabweans conducted themselves prior to elections, on election day and in the immediate post elections period. Higher voter turnout at most polling stations. The peaceful and conducive environment in which the 2018 elections were held. Timely distribution of election materials and deployment of trained personnel. The stringent and orderly manner in which ZEC managed the voting and counting process on election day,” he said.
The head of SADC observation mission Manuel Augusto said all the polling stations they observed were peaceful.
“The environment at all of the polling stations observed was peaceful, and all the polling stations opened and closed on time without any disruption of the procedures. The elections were largely in line with key provisions of the legal and constitutional framework and in conformity with the revised SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections. The peaceful environment provided the people of Zimbabwe the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right,” he said.
The foreign observers also highlighted that there is a need for the media to improve its coverage of other political parties.
“The mission advises the ZEC and the media commission to ensure that the constitution and electoral law are enforced with respect to the conduct of the media,” said Augusto.
Comesa’s Rashed also said that since media monitoring reverts to ZEC after proclamation, there is a need to consider putting in place a strategy to ensure balanced media coverage for all political parties and candidates on the public owned media.