Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in for a second five-year term on Monday, a week after securing an absolute majority in the country’s presidential election. Dr Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, MEP, a member of the European Union observer team that witnessed the controversial polls, reports
General elections were held throughout Zimbabwe on 23 and 24 August 2023 to elect the president, legislators and councillors. At the invitation of the Zimbabwean authorities, the European Union deployed an Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) composed of 150 observers and 7 Members of the European Parliament to cover all parts of the country.
The European Parliament’s observation mission consisted of seven MEPs from Austria, Germany, Spain, France, Italy ,Estonia and Poland:
• Mr Fabio Massimo Castaldo, Italy, Chief Observer of the European Union Observation Mission
• Mr Andreas Schieder, Austria, Head of the European Parliament Observation Mission
• Mr Javier Nart, Spain
• Ms Patricia Chagnon, France
• Mr Urmas Paet, Estonia
• Mr Ryszard Czarnecki, Poland
• Mr Sven Simon, Germany
• Ms Dr Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana, Germany
We formed a group of 3 teams: The first team observed the elections in Harare which I was part of it, the second team in Marondera and the surrounding area and the third team in Chinhoyi.
Before the elections
A few days before the elections, we met with the country’s authorities, candidates, political parties, religious leaders, civil society organisations and media representatives. They told us about the current political situation, their concerns, the lack of transparency and the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which they said had failed to provide all the information needed for the election to run smoothly, in particular the voters’ roll.
In addition, the elections failed to meet many regional and international standards, including the important principles of equality and transparency, according to those we spoke to.
We deplore the fact that less than 15% of all registered candidates were women. Only one woman was able to run in the presidential election, and only through a legal process. The registration fee for presidential candidates was US$20,000, which automatically excluded most women who wanted to run for president. For the parliament, the fee was 1,000 US dollars. We also learned that the authorities demanded cash payment in dollars for these fees.
Zimbabwe’s presidential and parliamentary elections were held on Wednesday 23 August. Incumbent president Emmerson Mnangagwa, nicknamed the “crocodile”, faced off against his opponent, Nelson Chamissa, a lawyer and pastor, leader of the opposition and of his “Coalition of Citizens for Change” (CCC) party.
A climate of “fear”
Thus, the elections took place peacefully but in a tense atmosphere of fear. The election campaign was marked by a crackdown on opponents, the spread of fake news about the opposition and random arrests not only of opponents but also of observers.
On Wednesday night, 39 observers from civil society organisations (Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network ZESN), who were living in the same hotel we were staying in, were arrested. Their work equipment – laptops and phones – was confiscated and their hotel room ransacked.
All the observers, including the members of our delegation, were locked in the hotel all day by order of the authorities. We were not allowed to leave. In their final statements, both the Chief Observer and the Head of Mission of the European Parliament , on behalf of the European Union and the European Parliament, called for the immediate release of local civil society observers.
As signatories to the “Declaration of Principles on Election Observation”, we strongly condemn these unacceptable attacks on observers who are considered human rights defenders by the European Parliament and at the global level. The Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network ZESN is an integral part of the Global Network of Domestic Election Observers (GNDEM), an independent and credible organisation.
The Zimbawean Harmonised Elections of 23 August 2023
The presidential and legislative elections in Zimbabwe were subject to major delays and malfunctions, and can be considered as not in compliance with electoral law.
The lack of ballot papers in urban polling stations was widespread in the capital Harare and other major cities, strongholds of the opposition. In the rural regions, it seems that citizens were able to vote on time, which led to the anger of many citizens in Harare who approached us to express their discontent.
In rural areas in particular, however, there was heavy intimidation by groups close to the ruling Zanu-PF party, according to election observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), who condemned the behaviour of party activists. They had set up tables in the polling station premises to take the names of citizens as they entered and left the polling station.
However, the hours-long wait for ballot papers due to logistical problems discouraged many voters, who chose not to vote and returned home.
The electoral rolls contained numerous errors. Some voters were not mentioned, even though they had registered on time. Observers also noted the refusal of the authorities to accredit certain foreign media and questioned the bias of the local public media.
Another critical point is the massive disinformation campaign orchestrated in the local newspapers against the observer organisations, especially the European Union and the European Observer Mission (EU-EOM) We would like to point out that the EU Observer Mission was invited by the Zimbabwean government to carry out an independent assessment of the electoral process.
We regret that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) did not receive our delegation despite several requests on our part and given the technical support and the substantial financial contribution that the European Union has made to these elections.
The vote, which was due to end on Wednesday evening, had to be extended late into the evening and throughout the following day.
Observers from the European Union (EU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Commonwealth countries unanimously questioned the smooth running of the electoral process. Certain aspects of the ballot do not comply with the requirements of the Zimbabwean Constitution, the Electoral Act (…) governing democratic elections”, the head of the SADC mission, Nevers Mumba, told the press. Amina Mohamed, from the Commonwealth Observer Mission, stressed that “serious problems” had marred the “credibility” and “transparency” of the ballot.
At the press conference, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, head of the EU mission, followed suit, referring to “a climate of fear” and stating loud and clear that the “elections did not meet many international standards”.
The ZEC electoral commission, in particular, did not inspire confidence on the issue of the presidential and legislative elections, as well as on the grounds of non-transparent communication and the irregular provision of ballot papers in good time.
The election results
President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner of the Zimbabwe election by the electoral authority on Saturday evening, although the results were due to be announced on Tuesday. He has thus secured a five-year term as president. President Mnangagwa won with 52.6% of the vote. His main opponent Nelson Chamisa won 44% of the vote.
ZANU-PF won 125 of the 210 seats in the National Assembly, against 59 for the CCC. Sixty other seats will be allocated on a proportional basis.
These elections, despite all the difficulties, bear witness to the civic-mindedness of the people of Zimbabwe. They aspire to make their voices heard in the hope of evolving in a democratic space. These people are showing self-sacrifice and are prepared to sacrifice a whole working day in long queues in order to fulfil their civic duty. Their patience commands our admiration.