ZESN report flags concerns in March 26 by-elections

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network has released a report flagging a number of concerns on the March 26 by-elections including recommendations that ZEC should desist from setting up polling stations in privately owned properties.

The report also highlights that Zec the voters’ roll displayed outside polling stations should be easy to read.

“In light of the observations, ZESN proffers a number of recommendations including the following: ZEC should avoid setting up polling stations in privately owned properties or near controversial spaces, for instance near political party billboards or offices. ZEC should ensure that the voters’ roll displayed outside polling stations are easy to read by enlarging the font used and perhaps adding photographs to the same to allow for easier verification of the persons on such rolls,” reads the report.

The report states that while the elections were peaceful, there were some inconsistencies noted by observers which should be addressed for future elections.

According to the report released recently, the participation of women and youth in the by-elections was noticeably low and this is a cause for concern.

“While the Election Day was largely peaceful, there were reports of some people who were writing down names of voters close to polling stations. COVID-19 protocols were enforced, with voters who did not have face masks turned away. Outside some of the polling stations, ZESN observed teams from the Ministry of Health and Child Care who were vaccinating citizens against COVID-19 for free,” read the report.

“During the campaigns, there were concerns raised by some electoral contestants who alleged that the Police was selectively applying COVID-19 restrictions and the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act (MOPA) to benefit the incumbent.”

ZESN also bemoaned voter education inadequacies as some voters were not aware that they would only be eligible to vote for Members of Parliament but not councillors owing to the deference in the timing of the closing of the voters’ rolls.

“Overall, turnout was very low in the by-elections. In view of the observations made, there is need for robust civic and voter education interventions encouraging voters to vote in elections; peace building initiatives targeting political parties and local communities and their leadership to reduce incidences of violence and intimidation; avoiding setting up polling stations in privately owned properties or near controversial spaces, for instance near political party billboards.”

ZESN observers also reported a high number of assisted voters in the by-elections, particularly in rural areas like Tsholotsho South, Mberengwa South, and Binga North.

“The number of assisted voters was worryingly high, for example at Mangani Business Centre Tent A in Binga North Constituency, the number of assisted voters was in excess of 30% of the votes cast. At Mbambangamandla in Tsholotsho South, out of the 162 people that voted, 37 were assisted to vote; at Nembe Primary polling station in Tsholotsho South, out of the 83 votes cast, 15 voters were assisted; and at Gwavamutangwi Primary School polling station in Mberengwa South, 21 of the 125 who voted were assisted. Cases of assisted voting were on account of illiteracy, old age and visual impairment,” added ZESN.

The organization recommended that robust civic and voter education targeting the youth be undertaken to promote voter registration in view of the upcoming delimitation exercise and the 2023 Harmonised Elections.

“The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and other stakeholders should conduct peace building initiatives targeting local communities and their leadership to reduce incidences of violence and intimidation ahead of the 2023 Harmonised Elections,” read the report.

ZESN also called on government to ensure equality before the law as well as the equal enjoyment of civil and political rights across the political divide.

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