Intimidation, harassment galore in Seke by-election

However, courtesy of self-proclaimed CCC “interim” secretary-general Sengezo Tshabangu, Zanu PF has been catapulted to the driving seat at the Chinese-built Parliament in Mount Hampden with 190 seats now in the locker.

AS widely expected the ruling Zanu PF swept all the six parliamentary by-elections held on February 3, gaining what critics claim is its much sought-after two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

Zanu PF failed to garner the two-thirds majority in the August 23 harmonised elections.

However, courtesy of self-proclaimed CCC “interim” secretary-general Sengezo Tshabangu, Zanu PF has been catapulted to the driving seat at the Chinese-built Parliament in Mount Hampden with 190 seats now in the locker.

Be that as it may, it should be noted that it was not all smooth sailing in some of the contested constituencies particularly Seke where various alarming incidents were recorded of intimidation and harassment of independent election observers deployed by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn).

The intimidation and harassment have been attributed to Zanu PF agents provocateurs that patrolled Seke.

I was a mobile local observer on the day accredited by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), the sole electoral management body mandated with running all elections in the country.

I witnessed a local popular Zanu PF councillor moving around Mabhawuwa business centre reminding all those who were within earshot that he was instrumental in invading farms within the vicinity so they should vote for the ruling party candidate.

Youths that were listening to his impromptu address agreed in unison: Pamberi ne Zanu.

This was lunchtime Saturday February 3, several hours after the polling stations had opened.

A few metres from where he was speaking, there was a pitched mobile tent where people were waiting to cast their votes.

The Electoral Act forbids intimidation and campaigning on election day let alone 300 metres from a polling station.

Fresh pamphlets of the ruling Zanu PF candidate were strewn all over the footpaths and roads leading to St Michael’s Primary School, the command centre in ward 22 and Orange Farm, one of the polling stations in that ward.

At Ruwa Country Club, along the Harare-Mutare Highway, in ward 24 a female observer was harassed by unidentified individuals in an unmarked car.

This car was observed crisscrossing the width and breath of Seke by the mobile observers.

The aggressors at Ruwa Country Club demanded information about her activities, threatened her with physical violence before forcing her to remove her Zesn T-shirt and leave the polling station.

Law enforcement agents stood akimbo, but the incident was reported to Zec officials at the polling station, leading to her removal from Ruwa for her safety.

Other incidents were recorded at Musoveri Methodist Church in ward 15 where an observer was threatened and chased away from the polling station.

He was accused of being a “sellout” and misrepresenting to the West that elections are stolen in Zimbabwe while at Sundai Makonde ward 4, Charakupa Clinic ward 4 and Pamusasa Tent Zesn observers were subjected to similar intimidation and harassment.

The observer at Pamusasa related how a local Zanu PF member threatened and said to him: “You sellout, I will visit you tonight.” The aggressor happened to be his neighbour.

While these isolated incidents of intimidation and harassment may have escaped the limelight of the mainstream media, it is a violation of the Electoral Act to impede the operations of officially accredited independent election observers.

Section 40G of the Electoral Act is instructive on the functions of accredited election observers.

It says:

(1) Persons who are accredited by the Commission in terms of this part as observers of an election shall be entitled to do all or any of the following—a) to observe the election process and, in particular, the conduct of polling at the election;

(b) to be present at the counting or collating of votes cast at the election and the verification of polling-station returns by presiding officers in terms of sections 63, 64 and 65;

(c) to bring any irregularity or apparent irregularity in the conduct of the poll or the counting or collating of votes to the attention of the commission;

(d) to provide the commission with a comprehensive review of the election taking into account all relevant circumstances, including—

(i) the degree of impartiality shown by the commission; and

(ii) the degree of freedom of political parties to organise, move, assemble, and express their views publicly; and

(iii) the opportunity for political parties to have their agents observe all aspects of the electoral process; and

(iv) the fairness of access afforded to political parties to the national media and other resources of the State; and

(v) the proper conduct of the polling and the counting of the votes at the election; and

(vi) any other issue concerning the essential freedom and fairness of the election; and

(vii) any other factor that has a bearing on gender equality and elections, generally or in the conduct of the polling at the election.

(2) The minister, the commission, and all electoral officers shall take all necessary steps to ensure that accredited observers are able to exercise their functions under subsection (1).

To all intents and purposes some of the provisions of the Electoral Act were trashed in Seke where I was a mobile observer.

It is also worth noting what the United Nations Special Rapporteurs said about human rights defenders and the right to freedom and peaceful assembly and of association in a statement on October 27, 2022, explicitly recognising citizen and international election observers as human rights defenders.

This statement marks the first-time election observers have been explicitly defined as human rights defenders and comes at a time when the space for and rights of election observers is heavily restricted.

The UN Special Rapporteurs called on UN member States to provide election observers the same protections afforded to other human rights defenders.

As such member States “should, therefore, enable independent and impartial election observation by all monitors, including from abroad”.

The Special Rapporteurs further explicitly urged member States to “take all necessary steps to establish conditions that allow national and international election observers to effectively do their work, and to protect them from violence, threats, retaliation, discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of the legitimate exercise of their rights and freedoms.”

The statement was issued marking the 17th anniversary of the first commemoration of the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and 10 years since the commemoration of the Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organisations.

In its official report after the February 3 by-elections, Zesn noted the challenges faced by election observers and the interference they encountered while carrying out their duties.

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