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AFRIC observation experience: Bulawayo, Harmonized Elections 2018

08.08.2018
AFRIC Bulawayo observation team -- Yanina Noel, Belarus and Ernest Mchunu, RSA were cruising in Bulawayo and its suburbs during the Election Day in Zimbabwe. We managed to visit and observe the voting process at 9 polling stations. The general observation summary is quite positive. We did our best to seek for intimidations, violations, and any election code breach, crucial voters complains but we failed to find any. The complete process during the E-Day was smooth, disciplined, and perfectly organized.

We carefully explored the 300 meters area around each polling station we visited and we found no campaign signs at all. Zero propaganda materials as well as no incidents of food and agricultural assistance were observed during the E-Day.

Voters were queuing in long lines to exercise their right to vote since 7am and after the lunch time there were less voters coming and hardly any queues observed. The atmosphere can be characterized as very positive as people were very excited to vote!

AFRIC was doing its first observation mission in Zimbabwe, so it was quite important to establish friendly contacts and collaboration with the observers from other missions as well as local ones.  In average there were 7 election agents and 3-5 observers at each polling station to track the compliance of the election process. Literally an army of specially trained people to follow all the details! With so much watching and cross checking we can’t say that the voting and counting procedure was not fair and not transparent.

AFRIC Bulawayo observation team has been cooperating with the local observers as well as election agents the whole E-Day. We visited 9 polling stations in Bulawayo Central and we met plenty of observers, representing in average 2-5 organizations at every polling station, such as:

– CCJP
– NANGO
– African Union
– ZLHR
– CMH
– ZimRight
– ZECN
– UMYF
– WILD
– ZHRC
– ZCA
– Habekkuk Trust
– Catholic Church

 

All local observers were very friendly to chat about general trends and few even gave their own recommendations for the weakest points and locations to check out. Visually it was easy to identify observers at the polling stations as they were equipped with branded vests, caps, and large badges with photo, unlike election agents. We tried to interview local observers on the video but they all said they are not allowed to disclose any data publicly. Maybe it is also related to fear and shyness. In private talks we have been informed by local observers that all observation missions are usually invited to Zimbabwe on a very selective basis and that for the Harmonized Elections 2018 mostly foreign observers were invited.

 

We also met numerous of election agents at every polling station. There were minimum 7 of them at every polling station, representing such political parties as:

  • ZAPU
  • PRC
  • MDC-T
  • MDC-Alliance
  • ZANU PF
  • NPF
  • UMD

We approached agents at each polling station we visited with few basic questions if there were any official claims or complaints submitted, any law violations registered, and how was the atmosphere at the station where they were staying. No one refused to talk to us, and mostly people were very friendly! No serious claims were reported by the time we visited polling stations, only minor ones such as:

  • unknown police officers walked into the polling station (voters dressed in police uniform came to the polling station to vote)
  • there was some printed mark on a ballot paper (some small misprint, that did not affect any boxes to tick)

AFRIC team also witnessed the voting closing and counting procedure. We randomly chose KING GEORGE 6 polling station, Bulawayo East,  Ward #3.  Mrs. Perseverance Hadebe, was the sweetest Presiding Officer! In daily life the polling station was functioning as a public school. Code of the polling station was not provided by the municipal authorities (based on the PS Presiding Officer’s words). We arrived at the station at 18.40 and left at 05.30. The total number of the people who were locked up for counting was 31 person! The boxes and ballot papers were very easily available to approach and see, and the polling station staff was additionally showing questionable ballots to everyone present in the room. The whole counting was super slow due to numerous cross checks, verifications and announcements of every single step as well as numbers received to double check. The stage of filling  the final counting reports and forms was the longest, as before doing anything the polling station team was consulting all their election leaflets and guidebooks. Unfortunately they did one counting mistake for the presidential ballots counting and few names were misspelled, so they issued a Version 2 for the FORM V.II early next morning. All results were publicly disclosed outside the polling station on the wall.

 

Some of the EU and US observers have claimed that the elections were accompanied by many violations, yet after having observed the process at several polling stations in one of the provinces with higest tension expected, we can be sure that there was no major incidents. We believe that trying to apply external standards to elections in Zimbabwe is not really correct and adequate as the country is developing it’s on political system and these elections, compared to the previous ones, held in Zimbabwe, have been organized in the best way possible to ensure compliance with Zimbabwean legislation, providing opportunity for the people to cast their vote and opening the process for foreign observers for the first time in the countries history. Despite of complaints about long queques and slow process, no violations like intimidation or frauds during the E-Day we detected. At the level of polling stations during the election day the voting and counting process was as transparent and clear as a daylight. As for the counting process – in some cases it was quite hard to observe the process as it was taking place late at night, and there is much space for improvement in terms of usage of modern technologies. Despite of that, we believe that joint efforts would ensure even better performance of ZEC during the next electoral cycle.

Yanina V. Noel, AFRIC Observer

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