Pictures of MDC Alliance members demonstrating and demanding to be allowed into Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission command centre. Picture: RAY NDLOVU
Pictures of MDC Alliance members demonstrating and demanding to be allowed into Zimbabwe's Electoral Commission command centre. Picture: RAY NDLOVU

Harare — On Wednesday, EU observers listed several problems in Zimbabwe’s presidential and parliamentary election, including media bias, voter intimidation and mistrust in the electoral commission. They also questioned delays in releasing the results.

The EU’s assessment is critical in determining whether Zimbabwe can shed its pariah status as it could help attract investors and trigger an economic revival.

Former president Robert Mugabe’s successor Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ruling Zanu-PF party and Nelson Chamisa of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were the main contenders in Monday’s election.

The EU’s chief observer, Elmar Brok, said he did not yet know if the shortcomings would have a material effect on the outcome of the vote, and he criticised the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for being, at times, "one-sided".

The EU did not understand why the release of the presidential result was taking so long, he said. "The longer it lasts that the results of the presidential election are not known, the more lack of credibility it provides. I would like to ask for, as fast as possible, the release of the presidential election. The presidential results were counted first in the polling stations therefore I have still to learn why it will be published last [sic]."

The electoral commission had said it would start announcing results for the presidential race from 10.30am GMT, but this was delayed as commissioners read out more parliamentary results.

Opposition leader Chamisa accused the Zanu-PF of trying to steal the election after official figures gave it a two thirds majority in parliament. He accused the commission of releasing the parliamentary results first to prepare Zimbabweans for a Mnangagwa victory.

"The strategy is meant to prepare Zimbabwe mentally to accept fake presidential results. We’ve more votes than [Emmerson Dambudzo]. We won the popular vote [and] will defend it," Chamisa said on Twitter.

In an indication of the growing tension, a crowd of about 100 MDC supporters gathered outside a Harare hotel where election results were being announced but police blocked the entrance to the building, a Reuters witness said. "You can’t rig our election … this is a military government," the crowd shouted. The situation was brought under control as police secured the area.


Political watershed

African observer groups said the vote was peaceful, orderly and largely in line with the law, but they raised concerns about state media bias and the commission. They also called for improvements in the counting procedure, saying the vote represented "a political watershed in Zimbabwe’s history".

The House of Assembly of parliament has 210 seats and Zanu-PF’s two-thirds majority will allow it to change the constitution at will. Voters in Zimbabwe traditionally pick a presidential candidate based on their party affiliation and the trend in the parliamentary election was expected to continue when results for the president are announced.

Chamisa’s MDC won in most urban centres, where it enjoys majority support. One independent candidate and a member from a party linked to Mugabe also won one seat each.

On Tuesday, former MDC finance minister Tendai Biti and ZESN, the main domestic election monitor, said one in five polling stations — more than 2,000 in all — had not physically posted tallies on their doors, as required by law. This omission gave room for the electoral commission, which ZESN and the opposition have accused of bias, to manipulate the results in favour of Mnangagwa and the Zanu-PF party, Biti said.

On Wednesday, the EU addressed the same issue, with Brok, saying, "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."