The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) released a compilation of recommendations that were reported by various election observer missions to the 30th July 2018 harmonized elections. The 2018 harmonized elections came on the backdrop of a November 2017 military assisted transition and were deemed to be ushering in a new dispensation. Therefore, the elections had a great potential to stabilize or undermine democratic processes, as it was a tight walk between stability and instability. The electoral period was very much energized by the expectation from the general populace that the transition will be anchored on free, fair and open elections. Reputable international, regional and local organisations observed the electoral cycle period and subsequently submitted their reports with comprehensive recommendations.
The compendium brings to the fore 223 recommendations that were proffered by the various local, regional, and international Election Observer Missions that observed the July 30 2018 harmonized elections. In addition to the compendium, ZESN developed tracking tool to assist organisations to effectively play an oversight role in the implementation of the recommendations. The local, regional, and international Election Observer Missions undertook the task of observing the 2018 harmonised elections with main purpose of assessing the quality of the elections and offer recommendations for reforms of the electoral process and administration. On election administration, the Election Observer Missions recommended that “the Electoral Act should be aligned with Section 235 of the Constitution, with the effect that the ZEC reports directly to the National Assembly and secures its own funding from the Consolidated Fund (COG).” This is meant to ensure independence of ZEC.
Prior to the 30th of Juuly 2018 Harmonised elections, the independence of ZEC came under intense scrutiny from political players and other civic society organisations. Speaking at the launch of the compendium, ZEC Commissioner Kazembe urged key electoral stakeholders to raise the issue of electoral reforms with the Parliament of Zimbabwe and not with ZEC. She told delegates to the compendium launch that ZEC is not a law-making body but an implementing institution. She, however, bemoaned the “low uptake” of electoral issues by the Parliament of Zimbabwe.
On voter registration, the Election Observer Missions were of the opinion that ZEC should commission an independent external audit to assess the quality of the voters’ roll. This will go a long way to instill confidence and trust within the election management process, and at the same time it helps to clarify and resolve anomalies identified in voters roll. This is not a new phenomenon in ensuring electoral credibility and legitimacy. In 2016, the Electoral Commission Zambia engaged external auditors from Kenya to conduct the voters’ roll audit. The current politically fraught environment can be averted if the voters’ roll audit is taken seriously. It is imperative that ZEC clarify on how the audit process would proceed and who will be responsible for the external audit.
One of the most pressing issue that came under scrutiny and was considered by the Election Observer Missions is the variance in population size across Zimbabwe’s constituencies. It was noted that there is need to have a review of the boundaries with a view to standardising the numbers of voters across constituencies to ensure fair and equal representation. This is to be done in accordance with Article 161 of the Constitution. Article 161 states that no constituency should have more than 20 percent variation in registered voters. Thus, the constituency boundary delimitation to conducted with a view to rationalize constituencies that are too big and those that are too small.
It is commendable that the Election Observer Missions recommendations are consolidated and systematized for easy understanding. The ZESN Compendium of Election Observers becomes a critical guide for political and other confidence building measures that need to be put in place to contain disruptive electoral dynamics. Aligning the compendium with the 2013 Constitution is indispensable for ensuring sufficiently free and fair elections.