via Sadc must stand firm on Zimbabwe – DailyNews Live by KERRY KENNEDY • 13 AUGUST 2013 4:04PM
On July 31, 2013, Zimbabweans took their hopes and aspirations to more than 9 000 polling stations across the country to cast their ballots in a much- anticipated election.
While many analysts in Zimbabwe and throughout the world predicted a close contest between longtime President Robert Mugabe and his chief rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, the results proved to be nothing of the sort.
Indeed, several days later on August 3, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) announced a historic landslide, with Mugabe winning more than 60 percent of the popular vote and his party securing an overwhelming two-thirds majority in Parliament.
While the proceedings on Election Day were largely peaceful and rightly commended by both domestic and international observers, the myriad legal violations leading up to the vote combined with reports of irregularities and allegations of voter fraud on election day itself, have provided the international community ample reason to doubt the integrity of the outcome.
The amount of credible and mounting concerns that have so far come to light should prompt an immediate and thorough investigation by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) before election results are certified.
In March 2013, I led an international human rights delegation to Zimbabwe that documented the concerns of ordinary citizens, including human rights violations against individuals and civil society organisations participating in the electoral process.
During our visit, I heard countless tales of intimidation, harassment, violence, and arbitrary detention of activists, as well as infringements on freedom of expression and access to information.
I even received a small taste of that repression firsthand, as our hotel rooms were visited by shady State agents and our delegation stopped, searched, and questioned repeatedly by the police.
By all accounts, violations of basic political rights and civil liberties continued unabated throughout the electoral process and were not adequately remedied by responsible State authorities.
Most troubling is the fact that many credible reports suggest the electoral register was manipulated to provide the Mugabe regime the necessary latitude to unequivocally tilt the election in its favour, with reports that upwards of one million deceased voters and more than 100 000 citizens over the age of 100 remained on the roll.
The fact that an electronic form of the register was not made available to the political opposition or to civil society organisations prior to Election Day is unacceptable, and a clear violation of domestic law and international electoral standards.
On election day itself, it is estimated that between 700 000– 1 000 000 voters, mainly in areas sympathetic to the opposition, were disenfranchised by being turned away at polling stations across the country.
In a statement on August 2, Sadc was quick to label the election as “free and peaceful,” though it stopped short of calling the results credible, and for good reason.
One civic group has documented nearly 2 000 total breaches of the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, a vast majority of which were committed by Zanu PF officials or affiliated State authorities.
Although Sadc acknowledged a number of electoral irregularities in its preliminary assessment, the regional body has yet to take a definitive stand on the Zimbabwe issue.
Instead of applying its own standards to reach a conclusive and evenhanded judgment, Sadc has undermined the prospects for democracy not only in Zimbabwe, but for the region writ large.
With important upcoming elections in South Africa, ?Malawi, Namibia, and most worryingly Mozambique —which is currently experiencing serious political strife —this is no time for Sadc to stand idly by or to blindly disregard its own guiding principles.
The forthcoming Sadc Summit in Malawi provides a timely opportunity for regional leaders to hear the concerns of all parties involved in Zimbabwe’s electoral dispute, including domestic civil society and country observation teams.
A mere lack of physical violence, while certainly a marked improvement for Zimbabwe, does not itself constitute a credible election.