File Photo – Zimbabwean Dictator Emmerson Mnangwagwa

An audit of Zimbabwe’s pre-election environment has revealed a series of concerning issues, casting doubts on the credibility and quality of the upcoming elections. The audit, conducted through a series of election policy discussions, unanimously concluded that the country’s electoral process continues to fall short of best practices. Despite numerous recommendations from international observers and local organizations following the 2018 elections, little progress has been made, and the situation appears worse than before.

Zimbabwe’s electoral history has been marred by disputes and negative reports from reputable election observer groups. However, the context of the upcoming 2023 elections is distinctively different. The country is currently facing dire circumstances, with skyrocketing inflation, a deteriorating economy, widespread food insecurity, and a significant portion of the population living below the poverty line. These conditions make it unlikely for the government to be re-elected.

The implications of another failed Zimbabwean election extend beyond the country itself and have serious consequences for the region. Consequently, it is crucial to address the quality of this election, as it can potentially help Zimbabwe regain international favor and engage with the global community. The status quo of business as usual must be challenged.

To assess whether the upcoming elections meet the standards of best practice, the Sapes Trust and the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) conducted an audit of the pre-election conditions and the probability of Zimbabwe passing the test. Over nine policy dialogues, 26 local, regional, and international election experts discussed various aspects of the electoral process leading up to the 2023 polls. These discussions covered technical issues such as the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), voter registration, delimitation, the voters’ roll, as well as citizen-critical issues like political violence, press freedom, media freedom, and the role of the courts in elections.

The audit of the pre-election environment highlighted several major problems:

1. Lack of independence in the ZEC remains a significant concern.
2. Difficulties in voter registration due to low uptake by citizens and challenges in obtaining identity documents.
3. Non-availability of the voters’ roll and hindrances to independent audits.
4. Constraints and control over voter education.
5. Extreme political polarization creating an unfavorable environment for peaceful elections and a level playing field.

Ten months after the initial discussions, it is evident that little has changed. District delimitation, a topic not covered in the first dialogue, has proven unsatisfactory. The report on delimitation was disowned by the majority of ZEC commissioners and is facing court challenges. Additionally, the ZEC’s refusal to make the voters’ roll available for independent audit has resulted in a legal dispute. Overall, the pre-election process appears worse than in 2018.

The analysis of the five pillars of information, inclusion, insulation, integrity, and irreversibility received general assent from the participants. However, assigning a simple pass/fail grade was considered insufficiently nuanced due to minor improvements in some areas. While there have been certain positive developments, such as a registration blitz, relaxation of ID requirements, partial opening of the media space, and quotas for women and young people, numerous problems persist.

The conclusions drawn from the audit indicate severe deficits in each pillar and a reinforcement of shortcomings across different areas. The pre-election process appears to be reminiscent of past flawed elections, and the prospects for a free and fair election are minimal. It is unlikely that the necessary reforms can be implemented within the limited time remaining.

Considering the impending elections, it becomes imperative to shift focus to a more political process, involving significant intervention from the international community. Zimbabwe has reached a critical moment where its citizens deserve better

By Power

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