Two leading election watchdogs in Zimbabwe, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) have condemned the raid on their data centres by security forces on the night of the 2023 general elections.
The data centres were set up by ERC and ZESN to conduct parallel voter tabulation (PVT), a method of independently verifying the official results announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
PVT is a widely accepted and internationally recognized election observation technique that involves collecting and analyzing polling station results from a representative sample of polling stations across the country.
These actions have sparked debates regarding the transparency and fairness of the electoral process in the country.
The two organizations further highlighted their extensive experience in providing impartial election projections. ZESN’s sample-based observation (SBO) method, employed during the 2018 elections, led to projections that were publicly acknowledged by President Emmerson Mnangagwa himself.
These projections were also used during a Constitutional Court hearing that reviewed the presidential petition in the same year. Notably, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had previously encouraged both civil society groups and political parties to engage in parallel voter tabulations (PVT) during the 2023 elections.
Tragically, on the night of the election, ERC and ZESN experienced dramatic interference by government security forces. The watchdogs reported not only the arrest of their personnel but also instances of violence and intimidation against their staff. The timing of these actions coincided with the conclusion of the vote counting process across various regions of the country, raising suspicions about the intent behind the raids.
According to ERC and ZESN, the heavy-handed intervention of government security forces undermined the independent verification of the official results declared by the ZEC.
Their statement asserts that this disruption casts a shadow of doubt over the entire election process. The organizations also shared information about ongoing intimidation and threats directed towards their observers and staff, a situation that seriously compromises the credibility of the elections.
The ERC and ZESN have called on the government to drop the charges levied against their staff and observers and to take urgent measures to protect and stop the harassment of accredited citizen election observers.
“To increase the transparency of the tabulation process, we also call on the ZEC to make disaggregated polluting station results publicly of the election, ERC and ZESN are committed to the peace.
“We call for peace, for anyone who is aggrieved to seek redress through lawful means, and for the Government of Zimbabwe to respect the rights of citizens. In line with our mandate and commitment to electoral integrity, ERC and ZESN will continue to observe the election during the post-election period to through the resolution of election disputes and the taking of office by the duly elected candidates.”
According to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), which Zimbabwe ratified in 2021, PVT is one of the ways to ensure transparency and credibility of elections. Article 12 of the ACDEG states that “State Parties shall take all necessary measures and precautions to prevent the perpetration of fraud, rigging or any other illegal practices throughout the whole electoral process, in order to maintain peace and security.”
The ACDEG also recognizes the role of civil society organizations and independent national observers in promoting and enhancing the transparency and accountability of the electoral process. Article 18 of the ACDEG states that “State Parties shall ensure that there is a binding code of conduct governing legally recognized political stakeholders, government and other political actors prior, during and after elections. The code shall include a commitment by political stakeholders to accept the results of the election or challenge them through exclusively legal channels.”
Similarly, the Electoral Act of Zimbabwe, which governs the conduct of elections in the country, also provides for the accreditation and rights of election observers. Section 40A of the Electoral Act states that “The Commission shall accredit any person who wishes to observe an election upon payment by that person of such fee as may be prescribed.”
Section 40C of the Electoral Act states that “An accredited observer shall be entitled at all reasonable times during an election period—(a) to enter any polling station or counting centre; and (b) to observe without interfering with—(i) any part of the electoral process; or (ii) any person engaged in any part of that process; or (iii) any voter who is exercising his or her right to vote.”