UPDATED: Political space improves in Zim: AU observers

Haile Mariam Desalegne

Haile Mariam Desalegne

Debra Matabvu, Harare Bureau
The African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) has said Zimbabwe’s political space has significantly improved compared to the last election as witnessed by the peaceful and calm environment that prevailed before and during this year’s harmonised polls.

The observer mission, which has been in the country since the beginning of July, said political parties and candidates were allowed to express their fundamental rights of association, free speech and assembly during the campaign period.

The team also observed that the freeing up of the political space resulted in the increase of presidential candidates to 23, from five in 2013.

The mission, which comprises 64 observers drawn from African member states and institutions, is led by former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, assisted by AU commissioner for political affairs Minata Samate Cessouma.

The AUEOM deployed 14-long and 50 short-term election observers.

In a preliminary report, presented yesterday on their findings for the period up to the election, the head of the observer mission Mr Desalegn Boshe said:

“The elections took place in a generally and calm environment with no major incidents of violence and restrictions on the activities of political parties and candidates.

“The process was highly competitive as evidenced by the high number of presidential, national assembly and local council candidates.

“As an indication of the marked improvement in the political space, the AUEOM notes a very low threshold requirement for registration of political parties and candidates to contest the elections. The 2018 contest witnessed a high level of participation of political parties and independent candidates. The number of presidential candidates has increased significantly from five in 2013 (all of whom were male) to 23 in 2018 (four were women).

“The increased number of candidates and political parties participating in 2018 elections is evidence of the improved political space prevailing in the country. The AUEOM observed that political parties and candidates were able to freely associate and function without much inhibition to their rights.

“The AUEOM observed that the election campaign was largely peaceful and parties and candidates were able to exercise their fundamental rights of association, free speech and assembly without inhibitions or restrictions. Political parties and candidates adopted various camping strategies during the period.”

The team also gave a thumps-up to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) for being fully prepared and complying with the electoral processes and timelines.

The observer team added that the 2018 elections were conducted under an improved legal framework consisting of the 2013 Constitution, the Electoral Act and other Acts and legislative rules and regulations promulgated by Zec.

“The AUEOM found that the Government of Zimbabwe wholly funded the 2018 elections, which were substantially conducted by Zec, with some technical support from international organisations,” the statement added.

“Despite some financial challenges and logistical issues, the mission observed that the Zec carried out all the stages of the electoral process in accordance with the electoral time line and was fully prepared.

“It made concerted efforts to engage electoral stakeholders at various stages of the process through the establishment of the multi-party liaison committees (MPLCs).”

The team however said there was need for improvements as the legal framework contained gaps.

Zimbabwe invited more than 46 countries and 15 International organisations to observe this year’s elections.

Most of the organisations were already in the country before the polls and expressed confidence that the peaceful environment in the country was conducive for free, fair and credible polls.