Chiwundura National Assembly By-Election – Election Day Statement

1.0.      Introduction 

The Election Resource Centre (ERC), Heal Zimbabwe Trust (HZT) and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), working in a consortium under the banner Rights-Heal-Elections (RHE), deployed 5 mobile teams to assess the Chiwundura National Assembly by-election. The byelection took place on the 15th of July 2017. The by-election was called following the death of ZANU PF Member of Parliament Hon Kizito Chivamba. The consortium approach in observing this byelection was premised on a strategic oversight methodology centered on assessing the compliance of the electoral authorities with administrative procedures, legislative and environmental frameworks for elections in Zimbabwe on election-day.

The polling day tracking process was punctuated by solid direct engagements with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) officials on the ground during the by-election. Beyond simply observing the Election Day process, there was a deliberate attempt by the three groups to enhance real time address of emerging challenges through direct referencing to ZEC.

The ERC, ZimRights and Heal Zimbabwe jointly submit their findings for the Election Day which by no means, on their own, give a complete and exhaustive reflection of the quality of the Chiwundura by-election as a whole considering that elections are a process and not an event.

2.0.      Summary of Election Day Observations

  1. The RHE Consortium noted acceptably professional conduct by electoral officials who in most cases were cooperative in sharing information with stakeholders. Particularly, electoral officials deployed by the Electoral Commission showed improved levels of response in addressing polling day challenges that were reported by observers.
  2. The by-election was characterized by a generally calm and peaceful environment demonstrated by absence of observed cases of intimidation, violence or related acts of coercion.
  • However, the RHE Consortium witnessed inaccessibility of some polling stations. This was largely caused by some polling stations being located longer distances away from some voters` homesteads.
  1. It was noteworthy that some polling stations were located at places with potential to cause apprehension amongst voters. In this case 3 polling stations were located at homesteads. The polling stations were located at homesteads that are former commercial farm houses which now have new occupants. Such premises, while convenient, must be reviewed given the potential biases they might be associated with because of political inclination of the new occupants. ZEC is encouraged to pitch tents near such convenient locations to maintain the accessibility of such polling stations while distancing the Commission and the electoral processes from biases that may arise.
  2. The consortium observed that voter education was not adequately conducted as evidenced by some voters bringing party cards instead of IDs and turned away voters. Additionally, there was voter absenteeism emanating from misinformed voters who wrongfully assumed that failure to register during the June 2017 voter registration exercise, held ahead of the by-election disqualified them from voting, albeit having been a registered voter in previous elections.
  3. The RHE Consortium also observed that assisted voting remains extremely vulnerable to possible violation of the secrecy of the ballot. Involvement of 3 polling officials and a police officer to assist one voter is a huge dent on one`s secrecy to the ballot.
  • The consortium noted with concern the continued use of two voters rolls to administer the election which potentially weakens constitutionally guaranteed requirements that electoral processes must be accountable and verifiable.
  • The consortium witnessed undesirable involvement in election administration by members of the police who were seen recording polling information and relaying it through radio to unknown recipients for unclear purposes. This was witnessed at Kushinga Primary School and Plasworth polling stations where some statistics were actually shared by police officers and not necessarily by polling staff.

3.0.      Opening of polls

All polling stations where the consortium deployed observers opened on time with no reported cases of irregularities related to the setting up and opening procedures. In addition, ZEC deployed enough personnel to man the polling centres. The Zanu PF party deployed election agents at most polling stations with an average of 2 at a polling station while the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) party had agents at some polling stations, Freedom Party and Progressive Democrats of Zimbabwe had none at all polling Stations.  It is important to note that at opening, most polling stations did not have queues with Gokomare farm hall (ward 9) and St Severino (ward 14) polling officials having to wait for 40 minutes before the first voter came through to cast a ballot.

4.0.      Voting

  • The consortium observed acceptable professional conduct of electoral officials at all centres observed, this is commendable considering that in previous by-elections it has been difficult for the observers and other stakeholders to engage with election officials especially Presiding Officers.
  • Of concern to the consortium, was the inaccessibility of some polling stations for instance

Zororo Primary (ward 9) and Quary Resettlement which serve voters from as far as 9km. With the same polling stations it was noted that most voters had to access it by going over a mountain which provides a physical barrier hence limiting access of voters to the polling stations especially amongst the elderly, infirm, disabled and the frail.

  • Three polling stations were set up at homesteads in direct violation of Section 51 subsection 1(b) paragraph (d) of the Electoral Act[1]. This was observed at Stormvale ward 16, Happy Valley and Plasworth farm in ward 18.
  • The consortium also witnessed evidence of inadequate voter education as shown through voters observed bringing party cards instead of IDs with the intention to vote and turned away voters. At St Patricks Primary in Ward 9 it was noted that people ruled themselves out of voting when they failed to register during the ZEC initiated registration which happened 1-7 June 2017. Due to lack of information, such voters absented themselves wrongfully assuming that voting was only open to those that registered during the mentioned registration period. In fact even those who appeared in the 2013 voters roll were eligible to vote as their names pre-existed in the supplementary voters roll used by ZEC during polling.
  • There was general lack of interest in the process as observed by the consortium. This is exemplified by the number of voters who were at the polling station by 07:00hrs (such as Mkoba 4A with no voters), 10:00hrs (Raylands Woodlands with 5 voters) and 12:00hrs (Masvori Rural Service Centre with 60).

5.0.      Close of poll

All procedures for closing of polls were followed with the majority of polling stations witnessing no queues at closing.

6.0.      Counting & Results

Counting was done immediately after polling with each polling station posting collated figures outside voting premises before transmitting the same to the ward and constituency collation centres. Final tallying and announcement of results were competed by 5am the following day.

Table 1: Official Results Announced by ZEC

Candidate  Political Party Votes Winner
Guzete Tafadzwa NCA 445
Mudzviti Brighton FreeZim Congress 145
Ndlovu Brown ZANU PF 9,426 Ndlovu Brown
Zulu Webster PDZ 187
Total Votes Rejected  187
Total Votes Cast 10,321
Total Valid Votes 10,134
Voter Population 43,688
Percentage Poll (Voter Turnout) 23.6%

 

7.0.      Conclusion

Rights Heal Elections consortium acknowledged the generally peaceful, calm and professional atmosphere characterizing the conduct of the Chiwundura National Assembly by-election. The consortium however notes with concern inadequacies highlighted above particularly the use of two voter’s rolls, lack of voter education and the involvement of security officials in polling information gathering and dissemination. Consortium members will continue to advocate for a level playing field that must culminate into peaceful elections which promote inclusive participation of citizens.

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