THE SADC Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM)’s final verdict on Zimbabwe’s July 31 2013 election IS revisionist, and smacks of a Cover-up.
The final statement of the Observer mission as presented by Honorable Bernard Membe, shows evidence of the Observer mission having downplayed and or omitted some serious concerns around state media bias, fake voter registration slips, high numbers of assisted and turned away voters and the unavailability of the voters’ roll for inspection by parties and voters as recorded in the SEOM preliminary report of August 2.
It seems clear from what has thus far been presented, that the Observer mission had since resolved to stick to its initial endorsement, as there is no evidence in their latest position of a consolidation or finer grained analysis of its own observer reports in an objective fashion. If anything, a number of the contentious issues raised in their preliminary report have since been relegated to insignificance, not even warranting a mention in the summary of the final report.
While we await the final copy of the SADC Observer Missions report, the statement by Hon., Membe, has ample evidence that SADC itself has no respect for, let alone adherence to, their own Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections. This lack of respect has the very negative impact of setting the bar very lowly, for countries in the region where the credibility of electoral processes, their freeness and fairness as well as ability to be reflective of the will of the people is concerned. This final position is an unfortunate green light to other countries in the SADC region and the continent of Africa, to lessen efforts at adherence to set standards where democratic elections are concerned.
The SEOM, which largely okayed the July 31 poll as “ free, peaceful and generally reflective of the will of the people”, has set the tone for credibility with qualifiers where elections in the region is concerned. What makes it worse is the fact that although several glaring irregularities were identified and noted, and although SADC could not declare the elections as having been fair – it still lent its credibility to the process through affirming it.
WE noted the acceptance by SADC of the unfairness facilitated by the conduct of the state media, but can see politics at play from the attempt by the SEOM to water this concern down through an unwarranted focus on so called “ pirate radio stations” which the mission fell over itself to demand be closed. The Zimbabwean constitution and electoral law are clear on the responsibility of the state media around fair and equal coverage of political voices during elections. This is deliberate, because of the parentage of state media, which is supposed to be the people of Zimbabwe, in their different political, social and economic complexions, through their tax dollars. While we agree that all media houses and broadcasters need to be professional, the standard bearer needs to be the State owned media houses, who have a constitutional directive to do so. The reach of these different media actors, State and Private, is also different, and the damage done by partisan, unprofessional and unbalanced coverage is also different. To put them on the same pedestal as SADC did, is stretching the point, and is an attempt at misdirection and dishonesty on the Zimbabwean constitutional dictates on the matter. The recommendation for reform is however noted and welcome.
While the statement presented by Hon. Membe acknowledges the issue of the voters roll as a serious matter impacting on the fairness of the process, his attempts in plenary to diminish the importance of the voters roll and the impact it had on the credibility of the electoral process are regrettable. It would seem, that while the region is supposed to observe elections and develop not just ‘best practice’, but also the ‘next practice’, the dismissal of questions around the issue of an analyzable soft copy of the voters roll, does not auger well for this intent. The explanation given, that nowhere else has the issue of an electronic voters roll been an issue, is not sufficient to deal with this matter, and exposes either a deliberate turning of a blind eye to the Zimbabwean context or a lack of understanding on the same by Minister Membe and or the Observer mission.
Although the summary of the final report pointed to two irregularities – media bias and non-availability of the voters’ roll – that were mentioned in the preliminary report in August, it noticeably left out other hot issues which had an import on any final verdict by any objective observation party to the elections.
The statement references the 2008 elections as a standard and seems to insinuate that anything better than June 2008 run-Off standard will be acceptable. This comparison is misplaced, as it justifies a bad election on the strength that there has been a worse one. SADC would be best advised to understand that a relatively peaceful, fairly free and generally credible election is not the same as a peaceful, free, fair and credible election – which is the standard that SADC had set in previous statements of intent on Zimbabwe.
The qualified verdict on the elections and the insertion of adjectives to credibility by SADC, not only sets a bad precedence, but it deliberately encourages other governments to be errant in the conduct of their own elections, knowing that the bar has been set so low, that it is harder not to clear it, than to clear it.