“Observers Remain Vital to Zimbabwe`s Electoral Processes”

The past few weeks have witnessed an upsurge within the government corridors around the discourse on the involvement of international observers and their anticipated role in the watershed general elections expected in Zimbabwe this year. Concurrently, ZEC has sparked outrage within civil society over its decision to bar Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZIMRIGHTS) from observing the coming referendum.

Speaking to mourners gathered at the National Heroes Acre for the burial of the late liberation war hero, Ambassador John Mayowe, Vice President and then Acting President, Joyce Mujuru asserted that Zimbabwe will not play host to international observers, particularly the European Union and the United States of America , ostensibly because they are hostile to Zimbabwe.

Repeating the same mantra in Harare last week was Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, after meeting the Danish Foreign Affairs Secretary.  A feisty Mumbengegwi boldly declared that European Union and United States observers will not be allowed to observe the elections in Zimbabwe.  He contends that their ‘objectivity is up in smoke’ because they imposed sanctions on one of the sides contesting the elections.

At the moment, civil society coalitions are potentially heading towards a collision course with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission over the exclusion of ZIMRIGHTS from observing the referendum. The Election Resource Centre (ERC) reiterates and amplifies the position of civil society coalitions, who remain convinced that ‘ZEC with respect to their independence and mandate to accredit observers, have no right to set aside constitutionally enshrined provisions and values around the presumption of innocence when deciding who can or cannot observe the referendum and other electoral processes’.

There have been other muted calls by other players within the inclusive government to deny such claims, notably Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga who was quoted in Gweru arguing that Mujuru’s utterances are just that – utterances, and that the government has not reached consensus on that sticky issue.   But we have heard such lines before!  The end game is almost predictable.

Be it as it may, the ERC urges the government of Zimbabwe to allow election observers interested in observing Zimbabwe’s electoral processes to take part in the process.  We are of the considered view that the participation of these observers, including the European Union and the United States will be good for the electoral processes in Zimbabwe and will further enhance the transparency, openness and credibility of such in the eyes of the whole world. Observers play an important role and having observer teams from all parts of the world will only enhance our electoral integrity and improve how we conduct our future elections.  Observers play the following roles:

·       Spreading good practices. Electoral administrators, politicians and national observers can learn to better understand international standards for free and fair elections by cooperating with the international observers and studying their reports. International observer missions provide electoral administrators the opportunity to exchange professional knowledge with other experts, particularly on integrity mechanisms used in other systems.

·       Deterring integrity problems. The presence of international observers monitoring the election process may deter attempts to disrupt or tamper with the process. There is a public perception in most countries that international observers will be able to uncover fraud or any other irregularities that may occur on Election Day.

·       Detecting integrity problems. Experienced observers can detect problems or questionable activities, and bring them to the attention of the election management body and the public. Early detection allows problems to be resolved timely.

·       Holding a fragile process together. In situations of conflict or in countries in transition, the presence of international observers can to some extent deter the use of violence and intimidation. Their ongoing presence reassures candidates, monitors and voters that it is safe to participate. Their presence may also convince opposition politicians that competing in the election is preferable to engaging in civil disobedience or violence.

·       Increasing the credibility and legitimacy of the process. Through their reporting and analysis, observers can confirm or deny the legitimacy of the electoral process and its outcome. If their reports show that the election is proceeding within acceptable parameters, this finding reinforces the viability of the process and the legitimacy of the results.

·       Developing the capacity of national observers. If international observation is linked with national observation, international observers can help develop and improve the capacity of local observation efforts. For example, they can provide guidance on setting up a nationwide election observation effort, conducting a parallel count and analyzing field observation reports.

The ERC acknowledges the fact that observers are guided by regulations, and have to respect the sovereignty of the host country, the laws of the host country and the rules of its election management body.  International observers have to be objective and accurate and avoid interfering in the election process.

Granted, it then becomes vital for Zimbabwe to allow all international observers to participate in the observance of Zimbabwe’s elections and indeed local organizations interested in doing the same.

Zimbabwe is emerging from a disputed 2008 June Presidential run-off which was allegedly marred by excessive violence, abductions, killings and unlawful detentions. The previous elections were also tainted by allegations of vote rigging and many other forms of electoral malpractices.  The Global Political Agreement (GPA) was and is still an attempt to correct these anomalies and heinous practices.  It is an attempt by SADC and the African Union and indeed the rest of the world to ensure that Zimbabwe is persuaded and made to conduct free and fair elections, devoid of violence, intimidation and allegations of vote rigging.  It is an attempt to break away from the past and such a positive transformation might need to be witnessed by all interested stakeholders including the community of nations and other international actors.

If the major thrust of the GPA is to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections that are internationally accepted, then it is in the best interests of Zimbabwe to allow international observers to participate in the forthcoming elections. The presence of international observers will without doubt prove to the entire world that the transitional period has inculcated the desire to practice good electoral conduct on both the election management bodies and the contesting candidates or political formations.

The ERC therefore urges the political leadership in the GPA to seriously consider the importance of involving all interested stakeholders in the post transitional General Elections expected in 2013. Such action shall inevitably bestow the much needed legitimacy on both the electoral process and the leaders emerging from such a process.