The recent harmonized elections in Zimbabwe held over two days due to ballot paper delays, have drawn significant international attention and criticism. The elections were marked by curtailed rights, a lack of a level playing field, intimidation, and irregularities. The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM), the Commonwealth Observer Mission, and the Southern African Development Community Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) have all voiced concerns about the conduct and credibility of the elections.
EU EOM’s Critique
The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) has characterized Zimbabwe’s elections as largely disorderly. Chief Observer Castaldo, presenting the EU EOM’s preliminary report, expressed alarm over regressive legal changes and instances of violence and intimidation that created a climate of fear during the election process. The EU EOM also criticized the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for lacking independence and transparency, leading to a loss of public trust in the voting and results management. The mission raised concerns about candidate registration, campaign restrictions, and a raid on election monitoring groups during the election night, which violated the principles of non-partisan observation.
The Commonwealth Observer Mission acknowledged the generally peaceful conduct of the elections but raised serious doubts about the credibility of the electoral process due to reported irregularities. The mission noted improvements compared to previous elections, including enhanced voter education and registration efforts, as well as the participation of diverse political parties. However, unequal access to media coverage for different parties and instances of voter intimidation and harassment were flagged as issues that undermined the credibility of the elections. The report stressed the importance of an independent and impartial electoral commission to uphold the credibility of the polls.
The Southern African Development Community Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM), which has historically supported Zanu PF, issued an unusually strong critique of Zimbabwe’s elections. The SEOM’s preliminary assessment pointed out inconsistencies between the election process and constitutional standards, the Electoral Act, and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. Zanu PF responded by convening an emergency conference to lash out at SADC head of observer mission Nevers Mumba, accusing him of meddling in affairs beyond his mandate.
Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections have come under scrutiny from international observer missions, with concerns raised about irregularities, intimidation, and lack of transparency. While the elections were relatively peaceful and showed some signs of progress, the credibility of the process has been seriously undermined by reported irregularities. The role of independent and impartial electoral commissions is highlighted as crucial in maintaining the integrity of elections and preventing allegations of unfairness. As Zimbabwe seeks to address these criticisms and move toward more transparent and credible elections, the international community will be closely watching the country’s efforts at reform.