Arbitrary arrests, intimidation, heavy presence of FAZ marred Saturday by-elections – observer report reveals

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By Reason Razao | Senior Reporter

LOCAL poll observers Election Resource Centre (ERC) has flagged several irregularities pointing to yet another flawed electoral process in the just-ended by-elections across the country.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) held elections on the 11th of November 2023 in Kusile Rural District Council (RDC) Ward 13, Nkayi RDC Ward 11, Vungu RDC Ward 14, Zvimba RDC Ward 23, Hurungwe RDC Ward 24 and Gutu West constituency to fill vacancies in those seats.

The vacancies arose following the death of nominated candidates ahead of the 23 August 2023 Harmonised Election save for Hurungwe RDC Ward 24 whose position became open following the death of the councillor.

“The ERC notes with concern the systematic restriction of the campaign space ahead of elections. The ERC notes that this is a continuing trend from the pre-2023 Harmonised Elections environment,” the post-election report reads.

The opposition representative for Gutu West Constituency, according to the report, was arrested four times in the run-up to the by-election.

“On polling day, the ERC received reports of ZANU PF branded cars around polling locations and in some instances driving into polling locations in violation of the Electoral Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates and Other Stakeholders, which prohibits campaigning or displaying campaign material within 300 metres of a polling station.

“There was heavy police presence at Kuwadzana in Banket as CCC and ZANU PF exchanged verbal insults near a beer hall where ZANU PF supporters were allegedly inviting voters for alcohol and drinks while soliciting votes potentially violating principles of the Electoral Act relating to vote buying,” said ERC.

The observers said Forever Associates Zimbabwe (FAZ), a Zanu PF affiliate group which kept its presence during elections continued to directly and indirectly intimidate and influence voters.

“In Vungu RDC, ERC received reports that members of FAZ were documenting vehicles entering the polling station while in Zvimba RDC, FAZ members were present at polling station entrances collecting voters details before and after voting.”

The conduct of these FAZ members, according to ERC unduly influences the electorate in violation of section 134 of the Electoral Act.

ERC acknowledged the presence of a displayed voters roll at polling stations: “Following the disruptions (inability of ZEC to display the voters roll) witnessed during the 23 August Harmonised Election, the ERC notes that there was a return to administrative normalcy as ZEC displayed the voters roll outside of polling stations, a commendable reform that has been implemented by the Commission since 2019.”

The report also noted the worrying number of assisted voters, which according to ERC has been on the rise since the August 23 elections.

“The ERC received reports of high numbers of assisted voters in the by-election sites with polling stations in Gutu West Constituency noting 20% of votes cast at polling stations being cast by assisted voters,” the report highlighted.

The election watchdogs said their observation indicated that traditional leaders continued to act in a partisan manner in communities ahead of by-elections through the partisan distribution of state resources and in some cases the active mobilisation of communities to vote along partisan lines.