African Observers in Fallout Over Zim Polls

Image: Flickr, Commonwealth Secretariat
Image: Flickr, Commonwealth Secretariat

There is ongoing disagreement about the role played by African countries in sanctioning Zanu PF’s landslide victory in Zimbabwe’s parliamentary election on March 31.

Delegations from the South African government, ruling African National Congress, parliament and Southern African Development Community (Sadc) all said the poll reflected “the will of the people”, contradicting local Zimbabwean observers and foreign press who considered the election deeply flawed.

South African President Thabo Mbeki says the global media had prejudged the election; critics say Pretoria deliberately set out to legitimise a Zanu PF victory.

While less violence erupted than in past elections, allegations of systematic rigging soon surfaced. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) charges that 250 000 more votes appeared between the polls closing and the final result 48 hours later.

The voters’ roll may have contained over two million dead, relocated or fictitious voters. Millions of expatriates were disenfranchised. Over 130 000 potential voters (about 10% of total voters) were turned away in six provinces. Observers had limited oversight of ballot counting.

State-owned media allowed the MDC token coverage, having demonised them for six years. Constituencies were carved up anew to boost the number of rural seats and dilute the opposition’s urban dominance. NGO voter education campaigns were banned. Rural voters feared casting ballots for the opposition, and the only foreign observer teams came from countries friendly to Harare.

Last August, Sadc countries agreed on election guidelines that, among other things, called for freedom of association, political tolerance, judicial independence, equal access to state media, impartial electoral institutions and voter education. Zimbabwe has failed to meet at least eight of the 10 key standards, raising the question about how this contest can be called free and fair.

South African government observers, according to Elinor Sisulu of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, found these “elections credible on grounds that they would never accept in South Africa”.