Free, fair elections not guaranteed, says ERC

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By Chris Mahove

THE Election Resource Centre has cast doubts on the prospects of credible, free and fair elections in the country, citing the reluctance by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to decisively respond to sensitive issues on reforms being raised by various stakeholders.

Speaking at the launch of the Election Reform Barometer in Harare last Thursday, ERC Director, Tawanda Chimhini said despite an overall positive improvement in five of the nine tracked indicators, the electoral body’s overall adherence and compliance with internationally accepted best practice and the country’s legislative framework was way below average.

He said ZEC was only good at responding to non-sensitive issues and ignoring the sensitive issues such as the printing of the ballot papers.

“In terms of administration, ZEC has fallen short in terms of transparency and accountability in the administration of electoral processes. We therefore cannot guarantee freeness and fairness of elections,” he said.

“Challenges were noted in access to information around the process of compiling the voters’ roll, with the ZEC only releasing provincial and constituency figures.

“Access to the provincial voters’ roll was not guaranteed during the assessment period.”

The Electoral Reform Barometer is used to track pertinent electoral processes by assessing adherence and compliance with internationally accepted best practice and Zimbabwe’s legislative framework.

Chimhini said indicators around intimidation; campaign financing, media coverage and vote buying were negative, which contributed to the poor rating of the overall process in terms of preparations for the 2018 elections.

He said despite the largely peaceful environment that prevailed in the country, the majority of citizens in rural areas had expressed fear of violence and intimidation associated with the elections.

“There was intimidation of citizens through demand of serial numbers by Zanu PF; and low voter registration rates in Harare, which had 63 percent and Bulawayo, with 53 percent, signalled voter suppression in urban areas,” he said.

The ERC boss noted that vote buying remained widespread, with 70 percent of people interviewed in sampled communities admitting to receiving vote buying goodies from politicians.

“Urban voters engaged stated that vote buying vouchers did not influence their vote, while rural voters expressed that the vouchers influenced their vote and they displayed a sense of entitlement to the vouchers,” he said, adding there was no effort from political players to stop the practice.  

Chimhini called for extensive voter education to encourage informed and meaningful citizen participation in electoral processes, adding that ZEC should enhance transparency in the conduct of all electoral processes.