Yanina Noel, Belarus and Rishabh Sethi, India were among the team of 43 international foreign observers from 15 countries, representing Association for Free Research and International Cooperation (AFRIC). AFRIC is a community of independent researchers, experts, and activists. Their main goal is to create a platform for elaboration and dissemination of objective analytical information, first-hand opinions; establishing direct communication and cooperation.
We arrived to Zimbabwe on July 26, 2018, to study the situation and get ready for the Election Day. During the E-Day all observers were deployed in different areas. Our main focus as AFRIC international election observers was to present generalized claims about the quality and integrity of the Zimbabwe election as well as their compliance to Zimbabwe election laws. Our findings were based on a representative sample of observations, undermining the credibility of the mission. Bias in the selection of polling stations, among other things, can inflate or deflate the percentage of polling stations where we observed significant flaws.
Reacting to the elections activities in the following days, all the main international observer groups, including AFRIC, issued statements commending the people of Zimbabwe for voting peacefully, and the election commission for conducting free and fair elections. They also urged the polling stations to follow the legal procedures and system set by the election commission within the law.
While the election observer mission seems to give priority to the level of legal fairness and stability. The fairness of election is dependent on elections as a process:
- so-called election cycles
- engagement of long-term observers to monitor and understand the elections in the long-term context
- trust in the electoral bodies, as it is an important variable in assessing every election cycle.
AFRIC deployed both long-term and short-term observers for Zimbabwe mission. Short-term international observers team started to monitor the situation a few days before the Election Day. Candidates’ campaigns were very visible with numerous posters on almost every tree along every big road in Harare as well as notification posters from the election committee with voters educational info and directions towards the polling stations.
AFRIC observers also succeeded to visit few rallies. One of them was held on July 28, 2018. MDC –Alliance (one of the opposition parties) and Nelson Chamisa, a presidential candidate, organized a pre-election campaign rally with thousands of supporters and international media. The rally was lasting for about 3 hours, starting approximately at about noon. There were about 1-1.5k supporters, they were dressed in red in branded t-shirts and caps, mostly young people (18-35 years). We have no information if participation was financially supported as the rally occurred in the middle of the working day. No food or bottled water was given away. No organized bus transportation was observed. The rally was very properly equipped and arranged with a stage, car parking, walking passages, and guards. No posters were displayed and no leaflets were distributed. The whole event was conducted in a very peaceful manner; there was no mess and no violence. International observers from European Union and SADC visited the rally too.
Few days before the Election Day, AFRIC observers were gathered for a briefing to get observation instructions, materials, forms, and discuss the general election atmosphere, activities and procedures. We were grouped in teams and next day we all headed out to our deployment areas that covered all Zimbabwe regions.
Election observation of all international missions operate differently, yet related to election monitoring. The common line between AFRIC and other observation missions matches the idea that election observations are increasingly seen as important human rights-based institutional mechanism to strengthen governance and the institutional base of democratization.
On July 30, during the Election Day, AFRIC observers travelled thousands of miles and visited hundreds of polling stations all around Zimbabwe with different density of population, both urban and rural areas. We were interacting with the polling station officials, observers, election agents as well as media and voters who approached us. After visiting every polling station we filled a detailed checklist form containing 38 points including our personal observation notes, and there was a special checklist form for the counting procedure. Polling checklists covered:
- Observer’s name and location details of the polling station (name, ward, code, etc)
- Stats on voting, voters and ballot papers
- Details on the polling station opening and any campaign activities visible in close proximity to the polling station
- Polling station privacy arrangements and accessibility
- Any election law violations (multiply, proxy, family, carousel voting, etc)
- Complaints registered by election agents
- Details about election agents and local observers
- Closing and counting procedures and stats
All observation teams submitted their reports to AFRIC headquarters. We followed up the whole election process starting from the preparations for the opening of the polling stations, opening, voting, counting, till the public disclosure of the results on the wall outside of polling stations. It was a very long day for each of us.
The next day we all returned back to our base city, Harare, to bring our observation reports and give interviews to international and local media. AFRIC analysis and the research team headed by Professor Jose Matemulane, Mozambique, will prepare and issue a profound public report on the AFRIC observation results.