New Zimbabwe (London)

1 November 2013

Africa: AU Poll Observer Mission Recommendations

THE African Union Election Observation Mission (AUEOM) to the July31 elections has just released its report. In general, while the AUEOM observes that the 31 July 2013 Harmonised Elections in Zimbabwe were professionally and successfully conducted by the ZEC despite the financial, time and staff constraints. Based on the overall observations of the AUEOM, it offers the following recommendations to help address some of the shortcomings identified:

While in the end, the ZEC was provided the necessary resources to conduct the 31 July, 2013 Harmonised Elections, the AUEOM observed with concern, that the funding was not consistent or timely at various stages and tended to generate undue anxieties. To this end, it is recommended that there be greater transparency on; and adequate provisions of; logistics and resources to the ZEC for organising elections as prescribed in the OAU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa (2002).

The Voters' Roll should be made available to all stakeholders for verification and inspection, in both electronic and hard copy format, at least 14 days before elections. The integrity of the Voters' Roll must be assured through greater transparency, accessibility and public communication, with strict adherence to the provisions of the relevant statutes in laws of Zimbabwe.

There should be sustained public communication regarding the time-frames for special and intensive voter registration exercises and the closing dates thereof; to avoid unnecessary disputes and complaints.

The AUEOM recognizes the complexities of the Special Voting and the necessity of it, in equal measure. The Special Vote allows for uniformed forces and the ZEC officials deployed on Election-Day to cast their vote so as to dedicate time to electoral security, management and administration. As noted earlier, this facility has engendered transparency in the conduct of these special votes, which were previously not subject to independent domestic or foreign observation. However, to ease the strain on the ZEC, it is recommended that further exploration be made by the ZEC amongst Member States employing this facility to find ways of lubricating the process. Further, the requirements for persons to be afforded special voting privileges, may need to be subjected to inter-party and public dialogue to enable consensus-based outcomes.

Security markings on ballot papers need to be improved [as in some instances, observers noted the poor quality of the inscriptions] to prevent any possibility of duplication.

Zimbabwean authorities should reconsider the use of Police Officers in assisting voters as it may unduly influence the manner in which they vote. In future, authorities might wish to consider the reduction of parameters that necessitate persons to qualify as 'assisted voters'. The number of persons allowed to 'assist' voters should also be reviewed with a view to reducing it downward from four.

While the AUEOM acknowledges that the 6.4 million registered voters in the 2013 Harmonised Elections was relatively high, it calls for the greater involvement of non-state actors in civic and voter education throughout the democratic process to enhance and sustain participation in elections in future. To this end, consideration must be made to review relevant sections of the Electoral Act to enable the wider involvement of civil society in these processes.

The lack of/or limited access to the State Broadcaster was one of the most persistent complaints from opposition parties and non-state actors in the pre-election and election phases, and has been the subject of post-election disputes. The role of the media, particularly, the state broadcaster has been well articulated in relevant instruments of the AU as being central and cardinal to levelling the playing field and contributing to fair practices. The AUEOM observes that this matter has formed the basis on much contestation in the 2013 Harmonised Elections therefore it is recommended that the ZEC scrupulously enforces the relevant regulations of the Electoral Act to afford alternative voices and all political parties equitable access at all times during elections.

The AUEOM further recommends that the provisions of the BSA be fully implemented to enable the liberalization of radio and television ownership, thereby providing a broader platform for all stakeholders to voice their opinions, consistent with the stipulations of the new Constitution. The involvement of civil society and other actors in the review of the legislation such as the AIPPA and POSA and the manner in which they are applied will also enhance the country's progress toward democratic consolidation.

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