SADC Electoral Observation Mission Preliminary Statement to the Harmonised Election to the Republic of Zimbabwe










23-24 AUGUST 2023


On behalf of the Southern African Development Community(SADC), it is my distinct honour to
welcome you all to this important event where I will present the SADC Electoral Observation
Mission (SEOM)’s Preliminary Statement on the conduct of the 2023 Harmonised Elections in
the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The elections were observed in line with t he revised SADC Principles and Guidelines
Governing Democratic Elections (2021) and the relevant laws of the Republic of Zimbabwe .

I was appointed as the Head of the SADC Electoral Observation Mission to the Republic of
Zimbabwe by His Excellency Hakainde Hichilema , President of the Republic of Z ambia , in his
capacity as the Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security
Cooperation . I maintained close collaboration with members of the Organ Troika, currently
comprised of the Republic s of Zambia and Namibia and the United Republic of Tanzania ,
regarding the Harmonised Elections in Zimbabwe .

The SEOM also benefitted from the Pre -election Goodwill Assessment Report of, and advice
from the SADC Electoral Advisory Council (SEAC) .

The SADC Electoral Observation Mission comprised 68 observers , 50 were deployed to the
ten provinces of Zimbabwe, and t he rest were based at the SEOM headquarters here in the
Rainbow Towers Hotel .

Our observers were deployed to Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Matabeleland North,
Matabeleland South, Midlands, Manicaland, Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central and
Mashonaland West.

During the pre -election phase, the Mission consulted key stakeholders such as the Zimbabwe
Electoral Commission (ZEC) , key Governmen t Agencies , leaders of political parties,
representatives of faith-based organizations, media, Civil Society Organisation s, and the
Heads of International Election Observation Missions.

This Preliminary Statement covers the Mission’s observations of the pre -election period and
voting day activities. The Mission’s final report will cover , in more detail, the obse rvations of
the pre -election, election and post -election phases , and is aimed at supporting and
strengthening the democratic electoral processes in the Republic of Zimbabwe as a SADC
Member State.


Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

I now wish to share the summary of the Missio n’s key findings:

(a) Political and Security Environment

After consulting widely with stakeholders, the consensus was that the country was generally
calm and peaceful.

(b) Constitutional and legal framewo rk for the elections

The Mission noted that the 23 August 2023 Harmonized Elections in Zimbabwe were
regulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe and the Electoral Act [2:13].
According to Section 158 (1)(a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe of 2013, General Elections
should take place not more than thirty days before the expiry of the five year period specified
in Section 143 of the Constitution. The Mission noted that t his section applies to the duration
and dissolution of Parliament, and stipulates that Parliament is elected for a five year period
which commences from the date the President -elect is sworn in and assumes office.

The Mission further noted that Section 144 of the Constitution requires the President , by
proclamation call, to set a date for a General Election after consultation with the Zimb abwe
Electoral Commission. Pursuant to this provision, His Excellency Emmerson Dambudzo
Mnangagwa, on 31 May 2023 issued a proclamation fixing the 23 August 2023 as the
date for Presidential, Parliamentary, and Local Government Elections, referred to as the
Harmonised Elections. The Mission was informed that a further proclamation was issued
rendering 24 August 2023 as a pol ling day because of the delay s experienced at certain
polling stations . Furthermore, President Mnangagwa also proclaimed 2 October 2023 for
the run -off election to the office of president if such a poll become s necessary .

The Mission noted that this Proclamation was in line with Paragraph 4.1.3 SADC Principles
and Guidelines Governing the Democratic Elections, which require s that the date or period
of elections is prescribed by law.

(c) Election management

The Mission noted that the Elections in Zimbabwe are managed by the ZEC which is one of
the five Chapter 12 (of the Constitution) commissions, that is, independent commissions
whose purpose is to support democracy in Zimbabwe. In terms of s ection 235 of the
Constitution, the Commissions must act in accordance with the Constitution ; and they must
exercise their functions without fear, favour or prejudice.

(d) Delimitation of constituencies

The mission was informed that the delimitation exercise that was conducted in 2022 by the
ZEC was marred with controversy. In one way or another, concerned stakeholders claimed
that the report that ZEC submitted failed to observe the constitutional requirements for such
an exercise, and that there were also divisions amongst serving commissioners of the ZEC
regarding the veracity of the report. The main allegations made against the report was that it
constituted gerrymandering, and that it failed to observe the correct methodology for
calculating the 20% variance constitutional rule with respect to minimum and maximum sizes
of the 210 electoral const ituencies. The courts dismissed legal challenges brought against the
Delimitation Report of 2022 . The Mission , however noted that there remain questions
regarding the delimitation exercise for the following reasons:

(i) In its Delimitation Report of 2022, the ZEC rightly states that, “the Constitution
recognises the impracticability of having equal number of voters in each
constituency by allowing the Commission to depart from this requirement
within a stipulated margin. In this case , the Constitution in section 161(6)
stipulates that ….“ no constituency may have more than 20% more or fewer
registered voters than other such constituencies ”. The constitution in s ection
161(6)a -f also lists factors that need to be considered when delimiting since
they are important during the exercise.” However, the ZEC goes on to also
state that, “Based on the provision of s ection 161(6) the Zimbabwe Electoral
Commission then calculated the 20% deviation from the national average
voter registration expected in each const ituency which was 27 640. This
yielded a deviation of 5,528 voters. Since the average number of registered
voters was regarded as a stable benchmark against which delimitation of
constituencies was conducted, the deviation figure was added to the national
average to determine the maximum number of registered voters that a
constituency delimited would contain i.e., 33 168. ”

(ii) The Mission noted that the use of the average number of voters per constituency
is inconsistent with the provision of s ection 161(6) of the new Constitution that
was adopted in 2013. The word “average” appears in s ection 61A(6) of the old
Constitution of Zimbabwe , under which it was permissible to calculate the
minimum and maximum permissible number of voter per constituency by using
the national average as the baseline. The word “average” does not exist in
section 161(6) of the new Constitution , which deals with the same subject matter.
The difference between s ection 61A(6) and s ection 161(6) of the old and the new
constitutions , respectively is far from being merely technical.

(iii) In the new Constitution, and in the context of s ection 161(6) , the maximum
deviation is 20% of the voters registered in the constituencies. The new
Constitution uses actual constituency by constituency registered voter
population, not the national average number of constituency voter population , to
calculate the permissible deviation from the requirement that constituencies must
have an equal number of voters. Mathematically , the two methods produce very
different results and affect the equality of the vote concerning the elections to
parliament. On the other hand, since the country votes as a single constituency
in the presidential election, the difference in the methods has no particular impact
on the equality of the vote in that election. It was , therefore not unexpected that
ZEC would receive substantial criticism on this aspect of its latest Delimitation

(e) The voters roll

Some stakeholder s decried the delay in releasing the voters roll in a searchable and
analyzable format as prescribed by the Electoral Act . Some stakeholders expressed
displeasure that the delay in releasing the voters roll resulted in missed opportunit ies
for them to audit the voters roll and therefore give the public confidence about the
veracity of the voters roll . According to the ZEC, t here was however, an opportunity that
was provided for interested parties to inspect the voter roll as provided by the Electoral

In this regard, t he Mission to ok note of s ection 6 2 of the Constitution . This section
provides that every Zimbabwean citi zen has the right to access any information held by
the state or by any institution or agency of government at every level in so far as the
information is required in the public interest.

The mission also noted that in terms of s ection 21 of the Electoral Act, “The Commission
shall within a reasonable period of time provide any person who requests it, and who
pays the prescribed fee, with a copy of any voters roll, including a consolidated roll
referred to in section 20(4a), either in printed or in electronic form as the person may

Access to the voters roll is also premised on the constitutional requirem ent th at the ZEC
must deliver fair elections. In the exercise of this function , the Constitution requires the
ZEC to ensure that those elections are conducted efficiently, freely, fairly, transparently
and in accordance with the law. Following consultation s with the ZEC, the mission was
informed of: “The conflict created by the introduction of the Cyber and Data Protection
Act which enjoins all institutions and agencies to protect the privacy of information
entrusted to them vis the provisions of section 21 of the Electoral Act where the voters
roll although containing the personal information of voters (i.e. names, date of birth, ID
Number, Address, Sex) is a public document open to inspection by the public. Such
conflict has resulted in there being litigat ion around the voters roll as aforementioned,
where in one case an Applicant does not want his information public and in yet another
the Applicant seeks an order directing that the voters roll be availed.”

The Mission acknowledged the concerns the ZEC ra ised above regarding difficulties
related to releasing electronic versions of the voters roll. However, the mission also
noted that the law gives the Commission discretion to impose reasonable conditions to
prevent the voters roll from being used for comme rcial or other purposes unconnected
with an election. In particular , the mission noted that section 21 of the Electoral Act
provides that:

“(7) Where a voters roll is provided in electronic form in terms of subsection (3), (4) or
(6), its format shall be such as allows its contents to be searched and analysed:
Provided that —
(i) the roll may be formatted so as to prevent its being altered or otherwise
tampered with;
(ii) the Commission may impose reasonable conditions on the provision of
the roll to prevent it from being used for commercial or other purposes
unconnected with an election.”

Apart from the above safeguard measure against the abuse of the voters roll, there is
also room to note that as a constitutional body, the ZEC is obliged to give effect to the
constitution as the supreme law, in this regard, the requirement for transparent and fair
elections, instead of relying on legislation (the Cyber and Data Protection Act) that
negates the specific requirement. In addition to the fees levied for access to the printed
voters roll, the mission notes that the above scenario is restrictive regarding access to
the voters’ roll by interested persons, including political parties.

(f) Freedom of assembly

The Mission noted the controversy emanating from the Maintenance of Peace and Order
Act (MOPA) , which sets out a process for notifying the Zimbabwe Republic of Police of the
intention to hold a campaign activity. In this respect, there were stakeholder concerns about
the right to freedom of assembly for election campaign purposes, whereupon the CCC
reported that their rallies we re being subjected to unreasonable cancellation by the
Zimbabwe Republic Police. We also noted reports that there was inconsistent application
of the notice period for election campaign gatherings , with certain political parties stating
that the ZRP requir ed a seven -day notice instead of the three -day notice that is applicable
during election periods in accordance with section 7(1)(b)(ii) of the Maintenance of Peace
and Order Act.

(g) Freedom of expression

The Mission received concerns from several stakeholders that the recent amendment
to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [ Chapter 9:23 ] (No. 23 of 2004) ,
which amendment is commonly referred to as the Patriot Act has resulted in a severe
restric tion of the freedom of expression which is guaranteed by section 61(1) of the
Constitution . The Patriot Act creates the offence of “Wilfully injuring the sovereignty and
national interest of Zimbabwe ”. Stakeholders were particularly concerned that this
offence is vague, too general, and it criminalises “any communication between two or
more persons, whether happening in person or virtually or by a combination of both,
which involves, or is facilitated or convened by, a foreign government or any of its
agents, proxies or entities. ” Of note was also the concern that even the consultations
between these stakeholders and international observation missions could fall afoul of
this law.

The Mission noted th at the Patriot Act is incompatible with the spirit of section 61(1) of
the Constitution , and paragraph 4.1.2 of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing
Democratic Elections , which requires Member States to uphold, amongst others, the
freedom of expression.

(h) Nomination of candidates and nom ination fees

The Mission noted the unprecedented amount of litigation surrounding the elections,
amongst others, concerning the nomination process of of candidates. In this respect,
we further noted the protest and litigation of Mr. Saviour Kasukuwere, who believes that
he was unfairly disqualified as a presidential candidate ; however the courts dismissed
this particular complaint .

The Mission further no ted stakeholder concerns that nomination fees for a person to
stand for election have become too high and , therefore restrictive to political
participation. In June, the government, through the Statutory Instrument 144 of 2022,
increased the presidential n omination fee from 1,000 to 20,000 U.S. dollars. Nomination
fees for a constituency election increased from 50 to 1,000 U.S. dollars. These amounts
were also cited as unduly restrictive to less well -off members of the community such as
women who lack the means. In this context , we also take note of the significance of
paragraph 4.1.7 of the SADC Principles and Guidelines , which requires Member States
to guarantee an environment of open contest with no undue exclusion and restrictions
on anyone eligible and qualified to stand as a candidate in any election.

(i) Participation of women as candidates

Stakeholders that also included political parties acknowledged the significance of section
80 of the Constitution and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development , which require
that women be given equal opportunities as men in political, social and economic
activities. Despite the innovations that Zimbabwe has made, such as the provision of the
30% female quota in re spect of councillors for local authorities , the Mission noted that a
lot more still needs to be done to achieve gender parity in contested/elected political
positions. In this regard, our Mission was advised that in 2023 fewer women actually
succeeded at t heir parties ‘ primary elections, and effectively less women stood for the
National Assembly, whilst only one woman stood for the presidency. Amongst others, this
could also be attributed to the high nomination fees.

(j) Independence of the Judiciary

In view of their significance in the event of legal challenges in the context of the
electoral process, some stakeholders expressed the view that the Government
compromises the judiciary . A key justification for this perception was information
received from these stakeholders that the judiciary recently received large financial
and material incentives , which the stakeholders viewed as an attempt by the
Government to buy the loyalty and allegiance of the judiciary.

(k) Alleged intimidation of voters

The Mission was informed that the rural vote may be compromised by alleged
intimidation attributed to a group called Forever Associate s Zimbabwe (FAZ), which
is said to be a quasi -security intelligence organisation. The group was said to have
been deployed to wards and around 36 ,000 villages. The allegations were that people
were intimidated to vote in a particular manner and were warned that it would be easy
to determine who voted against certain parties.

(l) Postal voting controversy

There was considerable concern from the opposition that postal voting by the
officers of the Zimbabwe Republic Police was compromised by the alleged coerced
voting. There were allegations that police officers undertaking postal voting were
coerced to vote in a particular way in the presence of their supervisors, thus
compromising the secrecy of the vote.

(m) Coverage of the elections by State -owned Media

It was the contention of several stakeholders that the State -owned media houses
remain biased against the opposition political parties and candidates. While the
Mission noted some improvement compared to the 2018 electoral processes, we
also noted that the content of the public broadcaster and the State -owned
newspapers were in favour of one political party, contrary to the relevant provisions
of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, and the Revised SADC Principles and
Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, which requir es State -owned media to
be impartial.


On the Election Day s, the SADC Electoral Observation Mission observed the voting
process in 10 Provinces of the Republic of Zimbabwe. The deployed observer teams
covered 172 polling stations in their respective areas. The political contestants have
continued to call for peace during this election period and after. The SEOM observed the
following critical aspects at the 172 polling stations that we visited:

(a) The environment at the polling stations was relatively calm and peaceful.

(b) Several voters expressed concern due to a lack of, or late arrival of ballot papers
and poor administration at some polling stations. However, voters remained
patient to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

(c) Professional and attentive police presence enha nced the overall peace and
secure environment in all the polling stations observed .

(d) 64% of the voting stations observed opened on time, 36% did not open on time
for the 07:00am stipulated opening time. Some polling stations opened more than
12 hours aft er the stipulated time. The reason provided by ZEC for this
unprecedented development was the unavailability of ballot papers, particularly
for the local authority elections, and also due to previous litigation. This challenge
was, however , specific to Har are and Bulawayo Provinces. Due to the delays,
some voters left without casting their votes, while others remain ed in the lengthy
queues throughout the day and night. By 06:00am on 24 August 2023, some
voters in these two provinces had still not voted. Consequently , these delays also
had a knock -on effect as they dissuaded voters from voting in the first place.
Against this observation , we further note as follows:

i. Section 52(1) of the Electoral Act provides that for any election , the ZEC
shall ensure that every constituency elections officer is provided with
polling booths or voting compartments and ballot boxes and shall provide
papers, including ballot papers .

ii. Before election day, ZEC had assured our Mission and other
stakeholders that all necessary voting materials, including ballot papers,
were available and ready for use . This communication was made in the
context of s ection 52A(2) of the Electoral Act which requir es ZEC to
provide information on the n umber of ballot papers and publication of
details regarding them . Based on these two considerations, the
subsequent information from ZEC that they did not have adequate ballot
papers has the unfortunate effect of creating doubts about the credibility
of this elect oral process .

(e) The voters roll was unavailable at 1% of the polling stations observed and was
therefore not displayed outside the polling stations for the convenience of the
voters and verification by party/candidates agents.

(f) During the voting period, and at 26% of the polling stations observed, not all
voters who turned out could vote. The reasons advanced for this included:

i. Voters were identified, but the ir names were not found on the voters’ roll;
ii. It was not possible to establish the voter’s identity;
iii. Voters were at the wrong polling station; and
iv. Voters did not have a national identity card or passport, or due to the
absence of an official witness confirming an elector’s identity.

(g) 8% of the polling stations observed were not accessible to voters living with

(h) At 50% of the polling stations, voters living with disabilities, the elderly, and
pregnant women were not given priority to vote.

(i) In 3% of polling stations observed, indelible ink was not checked on the voters
before allowing them to cast their vote.

(j) At 97% of the polling stations observed, voting was free from irregularities.

(k) Voting proceeded in an orderly manner at 95% of the polling stations observed.

(l) Ballot boxes did not remain locked and/or sealed at 2% of the polling stations.

(m) As a result of the excessive d elays in the opening of polling stations in Harare
and Bulawayo provinces, at least 36% of the voting stations observed did not
close at the scheduled closing time of 1900hrs, while some had not even opened
by that time. It was announced that voting would be extended to proceed into 24
August 2023 to compensate for the late opening.

(n) In previous stakeholder consultations, a shadowy organisation called Forever
Associates Zimbabwe was accused of conducting a country -wide exercise of
electoral intimidation. Our observers confirmed the existence of this group as its
officials or agents were easily identifiable at some polling stations as they were
dressed in regalia emblazoned with the FAZ name and were accredited local
observers. These, and other unidentifie d persons who were not polling officials
were also observed taking down the voters ’ names before they cast their votes.
In some areas, voters were intimidated by the actions of these individuals.

(o) The Mission observed the closing and vote counting process es. A proper analysis
of these two processes shall be provided in the final SEOM Report .

4. Recommended improvements in the electoral process

At this juncture, allow me to recall that the SEOM is continuing the process of electoral
observation in the post-election phase. As such, the Mission will not be rendering
comprehensive recommendations and detailed qualifica tions of the election at this stage.
However, the Mission has observed the following areas of the electoral process and system
that relevant stakeholders may wish to consider improving:

(i) Access to the voters roll : In order to improve perceptions amongst the pu blic,
political parties and candidates, ZEC is advised to strictly follow the provisions of
the Constitution on transparency, access to information , and timeously avail the
voters roll in accordance with the stipulations under the Electoral Act .

(ii) Nomination fees : In order to enhance the openness and inclusivity of the
political process, ZEC is urged to engage with all key stakeholders in the process
of revising nomination fees for candi dates and attempt to benchmark the revised
fees in the context of the SADC region and Zimbabwe’s economic realities.

(iii) State -owned media coverage : The relevant media regulatory authorities are
urged to ensure the implement ation of measures t hat require impartiality in the
coverage of political events by State -owned media.

(iv) Voting materials : ZEC is urged to strengthen t ransparency in the procurement
process , and delivery of all voting materials, including ballot papers, and put in
place a monitoring system that includes the participation and verification by
electoral stakeholders. In addition , there is need for the Electoral Act to be
revised to put in place c lear timeframes within which these processes should be

(v) Participation of women: Effective and practical measures should now be put in
place at the earliest sitting of the next parliament to enhance the equal
participation of women as candidates in electoral processes.


In conclusion, the Mission observed that the pre -election and voting phases, on 23-24 August
2023 Harmonised Elections were peaceful, and calm . However, for reasons outlined above ,
the Mission noted that some aspects of the Harmonised 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 Mission commends the people of Zimbabwe for maintaining a peaceful political
environment during the pre -election period, and on voting day. The Mission will release its final
report after the validation and proclamation of final results, as provided for in the SADC
Principles and Guidelines Gove rning Democratic Elections .

The final report will be shared with the ZEC and all stakeholders.
In terms of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections , our long
term observers will remain on the ground to continue with the post -election observation until
the 1st of September 202 3. The SEAC shall return at an appropriate time, to undertake a post –
election review to determine the extent to which the recommendations of SEOM have been
implemented and the nature of support, if any, that the Member State holding elections may
require from the SADC region, to implement those proposals.

In the event of any electoral disputes, the Mission appeals to all contestants to channel their
concerns through established legal procedures and processes . The Mission urges all political
parties and the people of Zimbabwe, and all other stakeholders to allow the ZEC to announce
the final results as legally mandated.


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