By Oen Correspondent
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted a Twitter space Discussion on the topic; ‘Election Monitoring and Observation: Impact on the Integrity of Electoral Processes in Zimbabwe and the Region” on the 16th of June 2022. The meeting focused on assessing the effectiveness of election monitoring and observation of electoral processes in Zimbabwe and the African region. It also looked at establishing gaps in the legal, administrative and political framework proffering recommendations for the improvement of the conduct of Election monitoring and observation in Zimbabwe and the Region.
Panelists were drawn from Zimbabwe and the Sub-Saharan region and these were Rhoda Osei-Afful from the Center for Democratic Development (CDD) in Ghana; Olufunto Akinduro from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA); Cynthia Mbamalu of YIAGA Africa in Nigeria; Peter Mwanangombe of Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG-Zambia); Joyce Titi Pinso, an elections and democracy expert from South Africa; Boniface Chimbwana, elections and governance expert from Malawi, Tariro Senderayi a human rights advocate (Zimbabwe) and Reverend Kudakwashe Madzime from the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. The moderator for the discussion was Jestina Mukoko from the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP).
Cynthia Mbamalu explained the difference between election observation and monitoring, and the different mandates of the two processes. She explained that although observers can draw attention to issues arising from the electoral process, they generally have a limited mandate in the exercise. Election monitoring, on the other hand, involves the authority to observe an election process and to intervene in that process if relevant laws or standard procedures are being violated or ignored. Both election observation and monitoring can deter malpractices and build stakeholders’ confidence in electoral processes, ultimately contributing to the democratic credibility and universal acceptability of elections. She further stated that the effectiveness of observer missions’ reports is really dependent on context and the character of the government of the day in a given country. She stressed that it is rather unfortunate that in some cases citizens do not fully comprehend the limitations of observers and in some instances end up attacking observers as ineffective.
Another panelist, Olufunto Akinduro cemented the differences in the definitions for monitors and observers. She noted that although both can collect information, analyse and have a vested interest in the exercise, only monitors can intervene in the process. She noted that observers can only “hope” that their reports will have an effect on the results of the process and for policy considerations. She lamented the hindrances to the work of observers and monitors in most countries caused by limited technologies as well as misinformation and disinformation by stakeholders in the process.
Boniface Chibwana highlighted that for electoral monitoring and observation to be effective, the impartiality of the election management body is paramount. He also recommended effective political party monitoring as a key factor to consider in monitoring election processes, a competent, effective, and impartial electoral complaints handling system as well as the involvement of a multiplicity of actors in the electoral process. He spoke of situations like the one that happened in Malawi in the most recent general election when an election observation viewed as credible was later overturned. He blamed such instances on the increased loss of legitimacy in the independent observation process and lack of genuine and meaningful citizen participation in observation among other reasons.
Rhoda Osei-Afful highlighted that election observation has evolved over the years and there are standards, guidelines and observer codes of conduct that have also emerged to regulate the observers. She cited the “The Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation” and the “Code of Conduct for International Election observers”, both initiatives of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UNEAD) which are among the instruments providing the international best practices for election observation. She also noted that election monitoring and observation are not the magic bullets for all electoral integrity challenges but are, however, very important tools as they instill public trust and confidence in the electoral process.
Reverend Kudakwashe Stanley Madzime’s presentation highlighted some deficits in the Legal and administrative frameworks for election observation. He spoke about how election monitoring was the common methodology in Zimbabwe before the year 2000, and how this shifted to observation after the year 2000. This resulted in changes like observers now having to be invited, and other legislation that brought about restrictions which interfered with the election observation processes. He concluded that over the years Zimbabwe has progressed in terms of laws but the practice remains problematic.
Another panellist, Joyce Titi Pitso stated that in as much as election observation impacts on the integrity of the elections, the integrity of Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) is usually the main source of electoral problems. She recommended the need to enhance the integrity of the Commissions. She stated, among other things, the need for changing the procedure for the appointment of Commissioners where they are not transparent. Pitso applauded many of the EMBs in the SADC region, where integrity of the electoral process reduces conflict in elections because of the trust that is built in the Commissions. She remarked that Zimbabwe has a tendency of slow acceptance of election observer missions reports and recommendations which has resulted in piecemeal electoral reforms over the years, which undermines the effectiveness of election observation efforts. The panellist also spoke of the need for Zimbabwe to ensure the alignment of the legal framework to the Constitution, to strengthen the legal framework as a way of reducing electoral conflict. She recommended that stakeholders such as the Police and other security officials need to be independent and professional in their duties.
Tariro Senderayi spoke of the failure by electoral stakeholders to uphold the fundamentals of electoral integrity by not performing their duties transparently and efficiently. She stated that the production of reports is a crucial element of the work of observers and as such observer missions should pay particular attention to ensuring that all information is accurate and objective and substantiated with concrete evidence. She also recommended the equal participation of all political actors in electoral processes and the need to ensure that all important institutions like the Electoral Management body and the Judiciary are not captured by the State.
Peter Mwanangombe emphasized on the need to ensure the security of observers, who should be treated like any other human rights defenders because their work is that of defending democracy. He spoke of the need for a close collaboration between international observers and local observer groups since the two interface and share vital information. He also stressed the need for solidarity among countries across Africa on issues of electoral integrity.
During plenary several participants made remarks about the need to ensure an environment that is safe and conducive for local and international observers and monitors. Participants also bemoaned the lack of effective implementation of laws and regulations that protect observers and monitors, throughout the region. The need to build confidence in electoral institutions was also emphasized.
The discussion was a success as it generated an interesting debate on the subject and proffered recommendations on how to improve the conduct and work of election observation and monitoring missions. The discussion was followed by 209 people on the twitter space platform.