WE welcome the first international election observer team from the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) which arrived in Zimbabwe yesterday and has been given unrestricted access by the Government. True to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s pledge of free, fair and credible polling, the Sadc mission will conduct a week-long pre-election assessment and will meet officials from Government, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, political parties and civil society.
The visit, which is line with the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Conduct of Democratic Elections, will apprise the regional body of Zimbabwe’s plan for a credible poll. The country is already in election mode with some political parties having begun their campaign programmes ahead of polls slated for between July 21 and August 21, 2018.
The arrival of the Sadc delegation is a precursor to other teams from the African Union and European Union which are expected in Zimbabwe soon on similar missions. Under the new dispensation, Zimbabwe is shedding off its isolationist policies of the previous regime under former President Mugabe and has embarked on a charm offensive with the international community where it is on an aggressive re-engagement drive.
The Government has implemented sweeping reforms since President Mnangagwa assumed power in November last year and these have been well received by the EU, the United States, China, Russia and other progressive nations. Foreign Direct Investment has slowly been picking up on the back of policies adopted by the new administration which have laid a solid foundation for taking the economy out of the woods.
A lot rests on the forthcoming elections whose credibility will determine whether the international community fully embraces Zimbabwe and the Government that will be born out of the plebiscite. It is therefore crucial that the polls are conducted in an atmosphere that is deemed to be free, fair and credible.
We are delighted that President Mnangagwa has declared that his Government will do all it can to create an even playing field for all political actors. The ruling Zanu-PF party has not yet launched its election campaign even though its main rival, the Movement for Democratic Change and its alliance partners are on the campaign trail.
Previous polls have been marred by violence but so far the environment in Zimbabwe has been peaceful save for violent skirmishes within the MDC-T where its leaders are jostling for power. It is ironic that the opposition has always been at the forefront of accusing the ruling party of engaging in pre-election violence and intimidation yet its supporters are among the most violent as evidenced by the bashing of followers of embattled MDC-T deputy president Dr Thokozani Khupe by supporters of party president Advocate Nelson Chamisa in Bulawayo recently. Dr Khupe and other senior party officials were also attacked during the burial of the late MDC-T leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai in Buhera.
We hope the world is taking note of these incidents and welcome the condemnation of these acts of violence by various EU missions in Zimbabwe. We also commend the Government for following laid down protocols for election observation by inviting various missions well ahead of time.
The Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ambassador Joey Bimha, said at the weekend it was decided that observing elections now entails long term observation and not just the polling process. “The intention is that long-term observation guarantees stability and creates room for more thorough observation.
“Observation is now being done at three stages. The first one entails observing the pre-election period, the second stage is the campaigns and the polling, before a final team is sent to assess stability and acceptability after results have been announced.
“The Sadc Electoral Advisory Council is instrumental in this regards and will send a team. We will be having the Sadc team for the pre-election stage between March 11 and 17; they will be here to assess if the environment is conducive for holding a credible, free and fair election.
“While here, they will have discussions with Government, the ruling party, opposition parties, civil society and the elections management body so as to ascertain what the situation is like before the elections are held.
“For the AU team, we do not have a date as yet but they will be here in the coming weeks. I’m not sure about the dates for the EU team, but off hand I think they will be around the same time we will be hosting the AU delegation,” he said.
According to the Sadc Principles, a “Goodwill Mission” should be dispatched for pre-election assessment, with the mandate to — among other things — evaluate possible conflict and offer advice.
Sadc member states are required to invite a regional observer mission to observe their elections based on the provisions of the Sadc Treaty, the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation and the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Conduct of Democratic Elections.