Statement on the Zimbabwean elections

Freedom Under Law is gravely concerned about the recently concluded elections in Zimbabwe.

Observers have raised a litany of shortcomings with these elections, many of which are fundamental to the fairness and credibility of the election. These include concerns over access to and the credibility of the voters’ roll; the disruption of opposition party activities; issues with the delimitation of constituencies; last-minute amendments to the legal framework on the eligibility of candidates and postal votes; delays in opening polling stations in historically opposition-supporting areas; and voter intimidation and suppression of local monitoring organizations.

It is particularly striking that regional organizations specifically highlighted concerns with the elections.

The preliminary statement of the SADC Electoral Observation Mission states that some aspects of the Elections “fell short of the requirements of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Electoral Act, and the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2021)”.

The preliminary statement of the joint observation mission of the African Union and COMESA, while finding that the elections were conducted “in a generally peaceful and transparent manner”, reiterates many of the concerns about the process, including over the late opening of polling stations, the delimitation of constituencies, and raises numerous concerns relating to voter registration and the voters’ roll.

The conduct of the Zimbabwean elections is a matter of regional importance. The SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections provides that “[t]he Constitutions of all SADC Member States enshrine the principles of equal opportunities and full participation of the citizens in the political process.” Elections which do not meet accepted standards therefore weaken democracy and the rule of law for the whole of the SADC region. Furthermore, there appear to be serious doubts about whether the judiciary can be depended on to ensure the integrity of the elections and compliance with the relevant law.

In this regard, we note that the South Africa presidency issued a statement congratulating Zimbabwe for holding the elections, without engaging meaningfully with the numerous concerns which have been expressed about the election process. This has the effect of endorsing these shortcomings, notwithstanding the problems identified by the SADC and AU observation missions.

Democracy and the rule of law are co-dependent and free and fair elections are central to the rule of law. Absent an electoral process which is governed by clearly established rules, which are fairly and consistently enforced, the rule of law cannot be said to be upheld. The conduct of the Zimbabwean elections represents a serious setback for the rule of law, both in Zimbabwe and in the SADC region.