By Staff Reporter
UNITED States based International Republican Institute (IRI) as well as the National Democratic Institute (NDI) Zimbabwe International Election Observation Mission (ZIEOM) say they have noted relative improvements in the conduct of Zimbabwean elections but are quick to caution this was still not enough to grant the country’s divisive polls a clean bill of health.
This is cording to a joint observation report following Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections July 30.
“Based on its observations and in the context of 18 years of repressed political rights, depending economic pain, and decades of deeply flawed elections, including sweeping electoral violence in 2008, ZIEOM acknowledges that Zimbabwe has shown substantive, incremental improvements,” read the report in part.
They noted the “public commitment to credible elections, more open political climate, welcoming political observers and a fresh voters roll” but said this was still not sufficient to convince a citizenry that has grown increasingly sceptical of national poll processes.
“However, these relative improvements were insufficient to demonstrate broad confidence in the process to convince the populace that citizens are actually free to make political choices through a ballot that is secret and through a process that respects the will of the people,” read the report.
They said Zimbabwe’s August 1 violence in which the army killed six civilians were some of the indicators the country’s electoral culture was still embedded in old habits.
“Notably, the tragic events of August 1 to quell protesters that resulted in the death of six civilians and the subsequent crackdown of opposition party leaders in the days following the elections caused serious concern in addition to other malpractices such as the politicisation of food, intimidation of voters, partisanship of traditional leaders and an inordinate media bias,” said the observer groups.
In further comments, ZIEOM Co-director, Jessica Keegan urged Zimbabwe’s political protagonists to embrace the report’s findings which “offer a roadmap to improve the quality, inclusivity and transparency of future elections”.
“Moving forward,” Keegan said, “it will be critical that the government and opposition remain steadfast in working together to address the electoral shortcomings, to move the country forward and to instil greater confidence in the public that the process meets international standards for democratic elections.”
NDI Regional Director for Southern and East Africa Keith Jennings said the 85 percent voter turnout in the July elections demonstrated some enthusiasm among locals to take part in the national process although “Zimbabwe has not yet established a democratic culture where parties are treated equitably and citizens can cast their vote freely” said Keith Jennings, NDI Regional Director for Southern and East Africa”.
The points noted by the groups are almost a replica of some of the issues raised by some international teams that observed the country’s polls.
Zimbabwe’s first ever elections since the fall of veteran leader Robert Mugabe saw Zanu PF restore its two thirds parliamentary majority while President Emmerson Mnangagwa scrapped through with a 50,8 percent victory.
The opposition MDC disputes the poll outcome while citing alleged manipulation of figures in the incumbent’s behalf by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.