EU election observers have denounced Zimbabwe’s election commission and state media as the continued delay in releasing the presidential election results increases public fears of a rigged poll.
In their preliminary report on Wednesday (1 August), the EU’s election observation mission headed by German MEP Elmar Brok, accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) of a “persistent lack of inclusivity and transparency”.
The poll is the first since last November’s coup led by former deputy president Emerson Mnangagwa ousted veteran president Robert Mugabe after more than 37 years in power. It is also the first election in which Mugabe has not been a candidate since Zimbabwe obtained independence.
Opinion polls ahead of the election put Mnangagwa of the ruling ZANU-PF party and his opposition counterpart Nelson Chamisa, the candidate for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in a near dead-heat, both polling around 40% of the vote.
However, two days after voting took place on Monday (30 July) there has been no official news on the results.
In the resulting political vacuum, both sides have declared victory.
Final results for the Presidential poll are due to be announced by 4 August, but ZANU-PF has already secured a two thirds majority of parliamentary seats.
Under electoral law, a presidential candidate needs more than 50% of the vote to win outright to avoid a run-off election being held on 8 September. However, most analysts believe that the two parties will seek to form a coalition to avoid a run-off that could spark violence across the country.
The report by Brok’s EU observation mission stated that the “conduct of the polls has had a number of positive features”, pointing to a large turnout and “a generally well-managed and peaceful process”.
“But in other senses serious concerns remain,” added Brok, whose report pointed to “reports of a high number of assisted voters and of voters not found on the voter roll.
However, the state media and national electoral commission face the toughest criticism from the EU.
“Its lack of transparency and failure to provide clear and coherent information about voter registration overall added to a sense of mistrust by stakeholders,” the EU mission said of the ZEC.
The EU mission added that “state-owned TV, radio and newspapers, which dominate the media landscape, were heavily biased in favour of the ruling party and incumbent president in their election-related coverage”, concluding that there had been a “failure to achieve a level playing field” in the campaign.
The United States’ former ambassador to Harare, Johnnie Carson, who is leading another team of election observers, has already raised alarms about the custody of the ballots and the lack of an independent audit of the electoral register.
‘‘It is imperative that the results process is credible and transparent, with a full breakdown by polling station so that confidence in the outcome can be assured,” said Brok.
The EU mission also urged political parties to ‘await the final result and to remain peaceful throughout’.
Public fears that the poll could have been rigged prompted protests outside the ZEC’s offices in the capital city, Harare, on Wednesday, with police using water cannon and tear gas to disperse protestors.
Leading MDC politician Tendai Biti is among those to have threatened to make the country ungovernable if the electoral commission announces a rigged result.
Reports have also indicated that ZANU-PF has used direct threats of violence and collection of voter registration slips to undermine confidence in the secrecy of the vote. It has also been accused of manipulating food aid and agricultural programmes to benefit its supporters.