The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) said it was blocked from covering the critical part of Zimbabwe’s recent harmonised general elections which were “marked by a curtailment of rights and freedoms and the lack of a level playing field”.
According to the EU EOM’s final report released on Friday, the mission stated that the August 23 plebiscite was marred by massive irregularities including an uneven playing field and voter suppression.
The mission further stated that it faced significant challenges in facing critical officials at national level including members of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) whom they met only once.
“The 23 August 2023 harmonised elections in Zimbabwe were marked by a curtailment of rights and freedoms and the lack of a level playing field, which limited voters’ ability to make their choices in a genuinely free and pluralistic environment.
“A palpable fear of violence underlay the electoral process throughout, and a climate of retribution developed after the elections.
“In this context, comprehensive and meaningful reforms, and the political will to engage in them are necessary on the part of the Zimbabwean authorities to lay the ground for genuine and credible elections in the future.
“The EU EOM was invited by the government of Zimbabwe to observe the harmonised elections and the EU signed an Administrative Arrangement that should have granted the mission access to all relevant interlocutors.
“Yet, the mission faced significant challenges to meet with any official bodies at the national level, despite repeated requests. This included the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which the EU EOM was only able to meet once, and which was equally unavailable for meetings with the Chief Observer and the European Parliament delegation.
“This lack of meaningful access was coupled with an extensive, coordinated, and continued disinformation campaign against the EU EOM and other international observation efforts on the part of some national media,” read the final report.
The EU EOM also condemned the arrest of members of the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) and Electoral Resource Centre (ERC) by the regime on allegations that they were planning to present a parallel voter tabulation unit which would reportedly lead to the untimely release of results.
“Citizen observers faced severe restrictions due to a shrinking space for civic activities, administrative barriers, pressure, consistent intimidation, and even mass arrests on election day.
“A raid took place on election night where some 40 members of key reputable citizen observer organisations such as Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) and Electoral Resource Centre (ERC), part of the internationally recognised Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), were arrested for ‘coordinating the alleged release of election results’.
“They were held without legal counsel for some 12 hours and, although released on bail, still face upcoming court proceedings.
“The legal framework could have provided an adequate basis for the conduct of credible elections, if implemented properly. Recent legal changes, including the passage of the so-called ‘patriotic provisions to the criminal code, legislative work on the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) bill, and selective implementation of the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (MPOA) underlined the closing space for the exercise of freedoms of association, assembly, and expression,” read the report.
The mission noted that the ZEC allegedly failed to be independent and transparent “throughout the electoral period”.
“Until election day, the technical implementation of the electoral process was largely conducted in line with the electoral calendar. However, a lack of guarantees for independence, transparency, and significant delays in the opening of a considerable number of polling stations on election day reduced public trust in ZEC and the efficiency of the electoral preparations.
Throughout the electoral period, ZEC’s activities were characterised by a lack of transparency and insufficient communication,” the EU EOM noted.