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Zimbabwe: free and fair elections?

When Zimbabweans go to the polls on 31 July to elect a president, a parliament and councillors there is little chance that the elections will be free and fair. That was the conclusion of a debate hosted by Transparency International Zimbabwe on 18 July which brought together members of the two main political parties and independent civil society experts. Only the representative of the ruling Zanu PF party, which has been in power since 1980, believed the elections would be fair.

Even if the intimidation and violence is less in the run-up to this election than previous years, Tony Reeler of the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), an independent organisation, which undertook a report on voter registration, said the incompetence of the election commission would end in a disputed result.

The list of voters is out of date. The RAU report said that over 1 million of the 5.87 million registered voters as of 1 June were either dead or had left the country and that up to 2 million young voters had not registered. Electoral fraud is considered inevitable.

A trial run was supposed to give the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) a way to test its system. However, only 29,000 out of a possible 69,000 uniformed forces and civil servants cast their ballots over two days after long lines formed at polling stations. Most were unable to vote because ballot papers did not turn up and registration lists were inaccurate. This has prompted fears of a chaotic general election where nearly 6 million are supposed to vote in 12 hours, raising the prospect of a disputed result in a country with a history of election violence.

Transparency International Zimbabwe has over 60 staff and Accountability and Monitoring Committee members that will be part of a group of accredited observers for the elections nationwide."

Transparency International Zimbabwe has over 60 staff and Accountability and Monitoring Committee members that will be part of a group of accredited observers for the elections nationwide. They will be part of the around 18,000 local and 1,500 foreign observers accredited to observe the election. The government, however, has not allowed some international independent observers into the country.

Corruption on the rise

Free and fair elections could pave the way for the kind of reforms that would win back trust in a nation that has little faith in its elected officials. In the latest results for the Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer, 76 per cent of those questioned said they believed the country was run by a few big entities acting in their own interests and 92 per cent said corruption was a problem in the country. Three out of four people said that political parties were the most corrupt institution in the country and more than half the people who had come in contact with the police had paid a bribe in the past 12 months.

In recent months the head of the Zimbabwe Anti-corruption Commission (ZACC) has also been put on trial for corruption, shortly after ZACC started investigations of two government departments. Transparency International Zimbabwe has questioned ZACC’s ability to fight corruption in these circumstances.

Lack of space for civil society

Rather than promoting an environment in which civic participation and political tolerance are encouraged, the government of Zimbabwe has over the past years engaged in a systematic crackdown on civil society and the human rights community, including arbitrary detention of activists and opposition supporters, and widespread violations against freedom of expression and access to information.

For civil society organisations and other political actors to contribute in this democratic process the government of Zimbabwe must guarantee, promote and protect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association as stipulated in its constitution.

Transparency International urges the government, through ZEC, to accredit all domestic and international election observers to monitor the upcoming polls, ensuring an electoral environment that is duly consistent with the Southern African Development Community Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections

Transparency International encourages the government to respect international legal conventions to which Zimbabwe is a party or state signatory, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa.


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