The Southern African Development Community (SADC) continues to face a backlash from Zimbabwean civil society, after endorsing the highly disputed elections there as “generally credible.”
The July 31st polls were marred by widespread reports of voter fraud and other serious irregularities, which all signaled another heavily manipulated electoral process. The result was a ‘landslide’ ZANU PF victory that has since seen Robert Mugabe sworn in for another term as President.
Leaders of the regional SADC bloc immediately extended their congratulations to Mugabe and ZANU PF, urging the opposition MDC parties to accept the result. This was despite the problems reported by many observer teams deployed in Zimbabwe during the poll, and the absence of a final SADC verdict based on its own observer mission.
On Monday that final verdict was unveiled, with SADC congratulating Zimbabwe on a peaceful process and fully endorsing the polls. Tanzanian Foreign Minister, Bernard Membe, summed up the SADC position by calling the elections “generally credible,” adding that “it is difficult to say it was fair.”
Membe was addressing a press conference on Monday and conceded that “the credibility of the election process” has been met with negative evaluations. He however insisted that the verdict on Zimbabwe recognised that “there were so many other elements that when put together elevated the election to a credible status,” particularly when measured against the 2008 elections.
Concern and dismay is now being expressed, with analysts saying the absence of violence alone should not be the yardstick against which election credibility should be measured. The SADC bloc is facing accusations of lowering its own standards of elections, putting its credibility in jeopardy.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition regional coordinator Joy Mabenge told SW Radio Africa that SADC is setting a very bad precedent for the rest of the region, where other critical elections are due in the coming months.
“They set standards that other countries must fully comply with, and for a country to comply only partially and SADC endorses it as a true reflection of the will of the people, is absurd,” Mabenge said.
Tawanda Chimhini, the director of Election Resource Centre (ERC), said electoral standards in Zimbabwe had been lowered “unfortunately not by Zimbabweans but by the region itself” adding that it “is a tragedy not only for Zimbabwe”, but the entire region, considering that seven SADC countries are holding elections by 2014.
“The fact that the regional body has not fully explored the absence of fairness in this poll, but are still prepared to accept it, suggests that standards for elections in Zimbabwe have been lowered. Had SADC remained faithful to the established SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing the Conduct of Democratic Elections in making their assessment of the harmonized elections, the regional body could have found it difficult to accept the July 31st 2013 polls as credible, let alone being a reflection of the will of Zimbabweans,” Chimhini said.