(Last Updated on September 6, 2013 by Editor)
THE Southern African Development Community (Sadc)’s decision this week to endorse the controversial outcome of Zimbabwe’s July 31 general elections was hardly surprising, considering the regional bloc and African Union (AU) observer missions had already expressed satisfaction with the country’s electoral process two days after the polls.
Sadc initially said the elections were “free and peaceful” but withheld the “fair and credible” stamp, something which left President Robert Mugabe still facing a legitimacy problem in the aftermath of the polls marred by accusations of manipulation and rigging.
However, things changed for the better for Zanu PF and Mugabe this week when Sadc observer mission head, Tanzanian Foreign minister Bernard Membe announced the elections were “free, peaceful and generally credible”, while AU mission head and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo had already said the polls were “free, honest and credible”.
Membe even went further to say Mugabe and his party won with “flying colours”.
Soon after the polls, Sadc leaders, led by South African President Jacob Zuma – the bloc’s facilitator to the Zimbabwe political question – wasted little time in heartily congratulating Mugabe and Zanu PF for their victory.
To cement their position, Sadc leaders elevated Mugabe to deputy chair of the bloc at their summit in Lilongwe, Malawi, recently despite the opposition alleging the polls were deeply flawed and rigged.
So Monday’s final ringing endorsement merely confirmed the Sadc position, but what was somewhat unexpected was the way Membe borrowed from the Zanu PF hymn book in calling for the closure of “pirate” radio stations beaming into Zimbabwe, and “advising” the MDCs to work alongside Zanu PF in ensuring sanctions are removed.
“Let me tell you passionately from my heart,” Membe intoned. “The question of appealing to the world to remove sanctions in Zimbabwe is fundamental, not only to the people of Zimbabwe, but it also gives a chance to the opposition to come to power in 2018,” Membe said.
As Mugabe begins a fresh term with daunting socio-economic challenges lying ahead, the implications of Sadc’s endorsement of Mugabe’s disputed victory which clearly did not meet the regional body’s principles and guidelines governing democratic elections are serious.
Sadc has made significant strides in the consolidation of the citizens’ participation in the decision-making processes and democratic practice and institutions. Constitutions of all Sadc member states enshrine the principles of equal opportunities and full participation of the citizens in the political process.
The region, building upon their common historical and cultural identity forged over centuries, agreed to encapsulate their commonality into a single vision, that of a shared future. In this context, in 1992 the Southern African countries meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, signed a Treaty establishing the Sadc.
Apart from establishing institutions to promote democracy and uphold human rights, Sadc also later came up with principles governing democratic elections to enhance the transparency and credibility of elections and democratic governance as well as ensuring the acceptance of election results by all contesting parties.
The guidelines are not only informed by the Sadc legal and policy instruments but also by the major principles and guidelines emanating from the AU declaration on the principles governing democratic elections in Africa.
In the event a member state decides to extend an invitation to Sadc to observe its elections, this shall be based on the provisions of the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
Sadc members shall adhere to the following principles in the conduct of democratic elections:
- Full participation of the citizens in the political process;
- Freedom of association;
- Political tolerance;
- Equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media;
- Equal opportunity to exercise the right to vote and be voted for;
- Independence of the judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions;
- Voter education;
- Acceptance and respect of the election results by political parties proclaimed to have been “free and fair” by the competent national electoral authorities in accordance with the law of the land, and
- Challenge of the election results as provided for in the law of the land.
Over and above all this, the Sadc country holding must “take all necessary measures and precautions to prevent the perpetration of fraud, rigging or any other illegal practices throughout the whole electoral process, in order to maintain peace and security.”
So the question is: Did Zimbabwe meet its side of the bargain during the recent elections declared “free, peaceful and generally credible” by Sadc this week?
What does the endorsement mean for Zimbabwe and Sadc in the context of its own protocols and election benchmarks? What are the implications of this for Zimbabwe and the region, especially as other Sadc countries will be holding elections soon?
Probably the most important question to ask is: Did Zimbabwe ensure “full participation of the citizens in the political process” as demanded by the Sadc guidelines? Apart from Sadc observers, other internal observers said “full participation” was effectively compromised by disenfranchisement of thousands through the failure to register and vote.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said 750 000 potential voters were turned away by the Registrar-General’s Office while many cases of intolerance were cited, including the security service chiefs’ statements that they would not accept a Morgan Tsvangirai election victory besides their campaign for Zanu PF in flagrant disregard of the constitution.
Addressing journalists in Harare after the polls, Zesn chairperson Solomon Zwana said urban voters had been “systematically disenfranchised” as many were turned away for various reasons, including anomalies on the voters’ roll.
“Over 750 000 urban voters were missing on the voters’ roll compared to rural voters. In contravention of the law, the final voters’ roll was not made available in electronic format prior to election day. Thus there is no way to assess any bias on the final voters’ roll,” Zwana said.
“At 82% of urban polling stations, many potential voters were turned away and not permitted to vote for reasons which include names not appearing on the voters’ roll and turning up at the wrong ward for voting. This is in sharp contrast to rural areas where only 38% of polling stations turned away many potential voters.
“These factors on their own fundamentally undermine the degree to which the results of the 2013 harmonised election can be considered to reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people. When compounded by the massive bias in the state media, the campaign of intimidation in rural areas, the lack of meaningful education, the rushed electoral process and the harassment of civil society left the credibility of these elections severely compromised.”
According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), a total of 206 901 voters were “assisted to vote”, while 304 890 people were turned away, with Harare province recording the highest number of 64 483 such people.
However, critics said although Zec had its own figures, the correct numbers were higher than that considering that two million people, particularly in the urban areas, failed to register in the chaotic voter registration exercise.
So this raised the question of whether Zimbabweans were given a chance for “full participation” in the political and electoral process.
Furthermore, there is also the issue which Sadc avoided. Did Zimbabwe “take all necessary measures and precautions to prevent the perpetration of fraud, rigging or any other illegal practices throughout the whole electoral process, in order to maintain peace and security”?
According to Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, there was non-compliance with eight guidelines and only partial compliance with six. “It is difficult to accept the Sadc election observer mission report as a true reflection of the credibility of Zimbabwe’s 31st July 2013 harmonised elections. Only one principle was fully complied with which relates to the holding of elections at regular intervals,” the group wrote in its report titled Measuring the Zimbabwe 2013 Harmonised Elections’ compliance in accordance with the Sadc Principles and Guidelines.
Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said Sadc’s endorsement was a clear message to the MDC parties, especially Tsvangirai’s MDC-T, that the regional bloc considers the elections “water under the bridge and all Zimbabweans must now refocus on the future”.
“This implies that the doors have been firmly shut in the face of the MDC-T and it can no longer pursue any diplomatic channels to resolve what it calls a massive electoral fraud,” said Masunungure.
Nhlanhla Ngwenya, director of the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said Membe’s comments on the media in which he spoke about “pirate radio stations” were strange.
“It’s odd that a representative of Sadc criminalises alternative sources of information without specifically addressing the issue of undemocratic laws that have exiled journalists and these radio stations in the first place, robbing Zimbabweans of their right to information from multiple sources,” said Ngwenya.
Political commentator Blessing Vava: “The parties were assisted by Sadc to create conducive conditions for credible elections which they achieved through a new constitution and amendments to the electoral act, among other things,” he said.
Vava said the MDC formations’ participation in the polls implied satisfaction with arrangements they had made with Zanu PF.
But Masunungure said Sadc aset new unhelpful precedent on Zimbabwe ahead of elections in Swaziland and Malawi. “By all accounts, they (Sadc) have lowered the bar but they will have to sit down and decide whether to lower the bar elsewhere or treat the Zimbabwe case as a one-off exception derived from its 2008 experience,” he said.
Analysts say Sadc failed to comply with its own guidelines, a move which risks reversing the region’s democratic gains and consolidation if it continues indulging unreconstructed parties and leaders like Mugabe and Zanu PF.