by Richard Nyamanhindi – SANF 08 No 22
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has commended the people of Zimbabwe for holding a “peaceful and credible” election and called on all parties to accept the results.
A preliminary statement from the SADC Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM), issued before the announcement of results, concluded that Zimbabwe’s harmonised polls “held on 29 March 2008 for President, Senate, National Assembly and local government have been a peaceful and credible expression of the will of the people of Zimbabwe.”
Speaking at a press conference in Harare, the head of the SEOM, José Marcos Barrica said the elections were “characterized by high levels of peace, tolerance and political vigour by party leaders, candidates and their supporters.”
He said his mission was satisfied with the conduct of the political parties, candidates and the electorate, who were conversant with electoral laws and procedures in the Electoral Act and the SADC Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
The SADC Mission noted, however, that “the elections were held against a background characterized by a highly tense and polarized international atmosphere where some quarters of the international community remain negative and pessimistic about Zimbabwe and its chances for credible elections.”
Barrica, who is the Angolan Minister of Youth and Sport, said the Mission found that all political parties and independent candidates were free to hold rallies and meetings with their supporters without hindrance.
“Supporters of different parties were wearing party regalia in shared public spaces and transport.”
The Mission noted and pursued concerns and allegations pertaining to bias on the part of both the private and public media, pronouncements by senior officers in the security forces, the presence of police officers at polling stations, and the delay in the publication of the voters’ roll, among other issues.
However, the SEOM said with regard to the overall voting process, the elections were conducted in an open and transparent manner, and commended the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for meeting the administrative challenges of conducting the harmonized elections.
“Despite the mammoth logistical challenges that these harmonised elections brought to bear on all concerned, ZEC demonstrated high levels of professionalism, resilience and hard work in organising these complex elections,” Barrica said.
“The voting process was meticulously witnessed by observers and party agents. The polling stations generally opened and closed at the prescribed times and voters behaved in an orderly manner and exercised their franchise peacefully, freely and unhindered,” Barrica added.
In summary the Mission observed:
- An acceptable level of political maturity demonstrated by all Zimbabweans;
- A peaceful atmosphere and high levels of political tolerance in which supporters of different parties could conduct their activities;
- The use of translucent ballot boxes and the presence of observers and party agents at polling stations in line with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, thereby ensuring that voting was a very transparent process;
- That the SADC presence inspired confidence among the voters, ZEC officials and law enforcement officers;
- A positive spirit of co-operation by the Zimbabwean election authorities and other institutions by providing adequate support and clarity to voters;
- Statements made by political parties and their leaders urging their supporters to accept the outcome of elections and not to resort to violence.
- The Mission also urged Zimbabweans to be peaceful and avoid violence in the post-election period.
“It is SADC’s greatest hope that the spirit of co-operation and political tolerance which prevailed thus far, will continue to thrive amongst all parties and candidates in the post election phase.
“The greatest winner here must be the people of Zimbabwe and hence we call on all political parties to accept the election results. Any further queries and concerns should be pursued in line with the laws of the country.”
The SEOM recommended that in the future there should be a change and improvement in the areas of media coverage for all political parties, more voter education by allowing political parties and civil society organisations to assist with voter education, communication of change in law to all stakeholders should be done in time, making the voters roll available in time, and that the electoral authorities have adequate mechanisms to deal with complaints.
For this mission, the diplomatic missions of SADC members states accredited to Zimbabwe assumed the role of advance team from January 2008, and the SADC observers were deployed to Harare from 5 March. The mission was launched officially on 11 March.
SEOM teams were deployed throughout the country and interacted with political parties and candidates, ZEC officials, police officers and other citizens.
In total the SEOM consisted of 163 members from 11 of the other 13 member states, namely Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.