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By-Elections Shadowed by Violence and Intimidation Of Observers


Zimbabwe held six parliamentary by-elections on Saturday to fill the seats vacated by the recall of opposition lawmakers by a self-proclaimed secretary general of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) party.

The ruling Zanu-PF party won all the by-elections, securing a two-thirds majority in parliament that would enable it to amend the constitution.

However, the by-elections were overshadowed by reports of violence and intimidation against election observers, especially those from the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a local civil society organization.

According to a statement issued by ZESN after the by-elections, five alarming incidents were reported involving ZESN observers in the Seke constituency, where they were harassed and intimidated by unidentified individuals in unmarked vehicles, believed to be affiliated with the ruling party.

The aggressors demanded information about their activities, escalated to threats of physical violence, and forced them to leave the polling stations, removing their ZESN Observer T-shirts.

Law enforcement officers and the presiding officers were present but were allegedly instructed not to intervene by the unidentified individuals.

Section 40 G of the Zimbabwe Electoral Act outlines the functions of accredited observers. According to the Act, accredited observers play a crucial role in ensuring the transparency and fairness of elections.

They are granted the authority to monitor and report on various aspects of the electoral process, including campaigning, voting, and counting.

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The Act emphasizes the importance of their impartiality and independence in carrying out their duties. However, recent events have cast a shadow on the ability of election observers to fulfil their functions without fear of violence or intimidation.

According to a ZESN report, in one incident at Ruwa Country Club Polling Station in Ward 24, an observer was so fearful that she complied with the aggressors’ demands and left the polling station. The incident was reported to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), leading to her removal from the polling station for her safety.

In another incident at Rusoveri Methodist Polling Station in Ward 15, an observer was threatened and chased away by the aggressors, who accused him of being a sell-out and misrepresenting to the West that elections are stolen in Zimbabwe.

Before intimidating the observer, the aggressors had a meeting with ZANU-PF party agents and demanded that only ZEC officials, the police and political party agents remain at the polling station3.

Three additional incidents were recorded on Election Day, at the following polling stations: Sundai Makonde Ward 4, Charakupa Clinic Ward 4, and Pamusasa Tent A. Observers at these polling stations were also harassed on Election Day within the 300m radius of their respective polling stations. Due to fear, one female observer ended up sleeping at the polling station with no blankets.

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This is despite repeated calls by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Member States to provide election observers with the same protections as other human rights defenders.

They stressed the importance of enabling independent and impartial election observation, both domestically and internationally.

The Special Rapporteurs urged Member States to take necessary steps to establish conditions that allow observers to effectively carry out their work, protecting them from violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure, or any arbitrary action.

ZESN condemned the attacks on its observers and called for the police to ensure their safety and security when discharging their duties without fear of reprisal.

It further urged ZEC to address the problem of security threats on observers before it gets out of hand and undermines public confidence in the electoral process and credibility.

The organisation stated that intimidating and chasing away election observers not only weakens the values of transparency and accountability but also raises apprehensions about the general fairness of the electoral process.

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Multi-award winning journalist/photojournalist with keen interests in politics, youth, child rights, women and development issues. Follow Lovejoy On Twitter @L_JayMut

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