Zimbabwe’s Ruling Party Wins All By-Elections Amid Reports of Violence

ZESN calls for investigation and protection of observers’ rights

by Motoni Olodun

Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu-PF, has secured a two-thirds majority in parliament after winning all six by-elections held on Saturday. The by-elections were marred by allegations of violence and intimidation against election observers, especially those from a local civil society organization.

The by-elections were held to fill the seats vacated by the recall of opposition lawmakers by a self-proclaimed secretary general of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party. The CCC disputed his authority and challenged the recalls in court, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) went ahead with the polls.

According to a statement issued by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a local civil society organization that deployed observers to monitor the by-elections, five alarming incidents were reported involving ZESN observers in the Seke constituency, where they were harassed and intimidated by unidentified individuals in unmarked vehicles, believed to be affiliated with the ruling party.

The aggressors demanded information about their activities, escalated to threats of physical violence, and forced them to leave the polling stations, removing their ZESN Observer T-shirts. Law enforcement officers and the presiding officers were present but were allegedly instructed not to intervene by the unidentified individuals.

Section 40 G of the Zimbabwe Electoral Act outlines the functions of accredited observers. According to the Act, accredited observers play a crucial role in ensuring the transparency and fairness of elections. They are granted the authority to monitor and report on various aspects of the electoral process, including campaigning, voting, and counting. The Act emphasizes the importance of their impartiality and independence in carrying out their duties.

However, recent events have cast a shadow on the ability of election observers to fulfill their functions without fear of violence or intimidation. According to a ZESN report, in one incident at Ruwa Country Club Polling Station in Ward 24, an observer was so fearful that she complied with the aggressors’ demands and left the polling station. The incident was reported to the ZEC, leading to her removal from the polling station for her safety.

In another incident at Rusoveri Methodist Polling Station in Ward 15, an observer was threatened and chased away by the aggressors, who accused him of being a sell-out and misrepresenting to the West that elections are stolen in Zimbabwe. Before intimidating the observer, the aggressors had a meeting with ZANU-PF party agents and demanded that only ZEC officials, the police, and political party agents remain at the polling station.

Three additional incidents were recorded on Election Day, at the following polling stations: Sundai Makonde Ward 4, Charakupa Clinic Ward 4, and Pamusasa Tent A. Observers at these polling stations were also harassed on Election Day within the 300m radius of their respective polling stations. Due to fear, one female observer ended up sleeping at the polling station with no blankets.

This is not the first time that election observers have faced challenges in Zimbabwe. In the 2018 general elections, some observers were denied access to polling stations, while others were assaulted or arrested. The situation has worsened since then, as the country faces a deepening economic and political crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, has expressed concern over the shrinking civic space and the repression of dissenting voices in Zimbabwe. He urged the authorities to respect and protect the rights of all people to participate in public affairs, including through free and fair elections.

ZESN condemned the attacks on its observers and called for the police to ensure their safety and security when discharging their duties without fear of reprisal. It further urged ZEC to address the problem of security threats on observers before it gets out of hand and undermines public confidence in the electoral process and credibility.

The organization stated that intimidating and chasing away election observers not only weakens the values of transparency and accountability but also raises apprehensions about the general fairness of the electoral process. It called for an independent investigation into the incidents and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Despite the challenges, ZESN said it remains committed to promoting democratic elections in Zimbabwe and to providing accurate and impartial information to the public. It also appealed to the international community and other stakeholders to support its efforts and to advocate for the respect of human rights and the rule of law in the country.

Zimbabwe is expected to hold more by-elections this year to fill the remaining vacant seats in parliament and local councils. ZESN urged the authorities to ensure that these elections are conducted in a peaceful and conducive environment that guarantees the rights and freedoms of all citizens.

Source: All Africa


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