Two United States organisations; the International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) says while Zimbabwe had recorded incremental gains in entrenching democracy during the July 30 elections, the improvements were insufficient to demonstrate broad confidence in the process to convince the populace that citizens are actually free to make political choices.
In their joint final report set for release today, IRI-NDI Zimbabwe International Electoral Observation Mission (ZIEOM) said its findings were part of a seven-month joint mission to observe all phases of the electoral process: pre-election, Election Day and the post-election period.
ZIEOM said it recognising that it is the people of Zimbabwe who will ultimately determine the credibility of their elections and the institutes stand ready to support the democratic process if there is will for reform.
The mission added that those who seek to establish a genuine democratic transition will have to unite the country, work effectively with their political opposition and civil society, promote a tolerant multiparty system, a free and vibrant press, and vigilantly work to create a more responsive and accountable government.
“Based on its observation and in the context of 18 years of repressed political rights, deepening economic pain, and decades of deeply flawed elections, including sweeping electoral violence in 2008, ZIEOM acknowledges that Zimbabwe has shown substantive, incremental improvements.
“Improvements noted by ZIEOM included a public commitment to credible elections, are more open political climate, welcoming of international observers, and a fresh voters roll.” However, ZIEOM said these relative improvements were insufficient to demonstrate broad confidence in the process to convince the populace that citizens are actually free to make political choices through a ballot that is secret and through a process that respects the will of the people.
The report notes the tragic events on August 1 to quell protesters that resulted in the death of six civilians and the subsequent crackdown of opposition party leaders in the days following the elections caused serious concern in addition to other malpractices such as the politicisation of food aid, intimidation of voters, partisanship of traditional leaders and an inordinate media bias.
“Throughout the mission, NDI and IRI sought to express the international community’s interest in and support for credible, peaceful elections in Zimbabwe; provide an accurate and impartial report on the character of the election process to date; and offer appropriate recommendations to improve the electoral process.
“The mission was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Observation, in conformity with the laws of Zimbabwe, and in reference to international and regional standards for democratic elections including the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Guidelines and Principles for Democratic Elections and the African Union (AU) Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.”
The mission said it is grateful for the cooperation it received from all Zimbabweans with whom it interacted, including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) Chairperson and election officials around the country, the leading presidential candidates, political party leaders, citizen election monitors, other civil society leaders.
Commenting on the report to be released today, ZIEOM co-director, Jessica Keegan said the report aims to shed light on particular areas of concern.
“The recommendations offer a roadmap to improve the quality, inclusivity and transparency of future elections.
“Moving forward it will be critical that the government and opposition remain steadfast in working together to address the electoral shortcomings, to move the country forward and to instil greater confidence in the public that the process meets international standards for democratic elections,” Keegan added.
She said the voter turnout of 85 percent in the elections demonstrated an enthusiasm among Zimbabweans to participate in the electoral process. “However, Zimbabwe has not yet established a democratic culture where parties are treated equitably and citizens can cast their vote freely.”
This comes hardly a month after the European Union observatory mission said while the election was largely peaceful, use of state resources and delays by the electoral commission to relay presidential results affected the credibility of the vote.
Despite the negative comments from Europe and other observers outside Africa those from the Sadc bloc said the vote was peaceful and orderly and opened the door to strengthen the country’s democracy.
Zimbabwe held its first election since Robert Mugabe was forced to resign after a November de facto coup in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa were the main contenders for power.