The European Union Election Observer Mission (EU EOM) on Wednesday in the Executive Summary of its election report on the Zimbabwe polls did not veer off the trodden path. We would have been surprised if it had behaved otherwise.
And the result is that its conclusions cement mutual prejudices and suspicions which have existed between the European Union and Zimbabwe since the latter embarked on the land reform programme in 2000, despite everything President Mnangagwa has done to mend relations between the two from the day of his inauguration on November 24, 2017.
In the Executive Summary, the EU mission concluded that the results announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission lacked “traceability, transparency and verifiability” and that ZEC itself did not always act in an impartial manner.
There was nothing said about the reprehensible behaviour of the opposition, in particular documented attacks on ZEC, the Judiciary and various State agencies by MDC-Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa, which greatly influenced how the public media reported on his campaign message.
It is concerning that while the EU mission was expected to be an impartial observer, its report seems to reproduce everything the MDC-Alliance did not like. These include so-called abuse of State resources by the ruling party, partiality of traditional leaders towards Zanu-PF and the supposed lack of independence by ZEC. All these were judged according to “international standards”.
In Zimbabwe and much of the African continent, the sitting President remains as such until a new leader is sworn in. He is therefore treated and acts as such. He cannot be reduced to the level of his political rivals.
That is how the President was able to use the resources availed to him by the State, which others could not access. But he made sure they were free and safe to campaign as they wished, any where they desired. It was something never done before. The issue of traditional leaders is straight from the MDC electoral manual of grievances. No love is lost between the opposition party and traditional leaders in this country. We don’t believe on their own the EU mission would know much about the role of traditional leaders in the liberation war and the post-Independence land reclamation, which the MDC bitterly opposed. There is mutual loathing between the two, and traditional leaders wield power in rural areas where the liberation struggle was fought to get back our land.
On ZEC, the EU mission fell short again. The biometric voter registration system was something fairly novel. Yet ZEC managed to capture the details of more than 5 million eligible voters within a very short space of time.
The EU mission’s allegation of bias by ZEC is completely misplaced. It was again manufactured in the MDC-Alliance’s propaganda mill. The opposition party wanted to be directly involved in the sourcing of materials to print ballot papers, it wanted to select the printer, it wanted to decide the quality of the paper itself and wanted to be involved in the movement and custody of the ballot papers.
If the EU mission cared, they would have noted that all these functions are constitutionally vested in ZEC, not political parties or their leaders, not even the incumbent President. The MDC-Alliance wanted to usurp the mandate of ZEC, and when this was rightly rejected and resisted, it mobilised civic society and the private media against ZEC, in particular its feisty chair Justice Priscilla Chigumba. She was subjected to insults, threats and blackmail, but would not budge.
That is how negative publicity was generated against her, to say she was working with Zanu-PF to ensure President Mnangagwa’s victory. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Chamisa was involved in Justice Chigumba’s appointment and she is having her reputation soiled for refusing to be used.
Finally, we don’t understand what the EU mission means by “international standards”. The Sadc region has its own principles and guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections. We don’t know if these apply to what happens in France, in America, in Australia or Scotland?
Given that there is so much they seem not to understand about the role of various institutions during elections in this part of the world, why try to impose on Zimbabwe an “international standard” of conduct which doesn’t exist? European norms can’t be an “international standard” surely. We are past colonial rule.