How Zimbabwe implemented SADC guidelines on elections in 2005


The pre-election environment for the 2005 parliamentary elections was improved considerably over the run-ups to the parliamentary elections of 2000 or the presidential election of 2002, according to a cable by the United States embassy that has been released by Wikileaks.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change was even given airtime on the state controlled radio and television stations.

The cable said: “State broadcast and print media have significantly lowered the level of vitriol directed against the opposition in its news and editorial policy since the eclipse of Information Minister Jonathan Moyo over the past few months.”

MDC spokesperson Paul Themba-Nyathi said that the party had bought 91 minutes of radio time and 91 minutes of TV time.

Moyo was fired from the cabinet and from the ruling party after he decided to stand as an independent candidate in Tsholotsho. The Zimbabwe African national Union-Patriotic Front had reserved the seat for a woman to fix Moyo.

The embassy also issued what it termed a report card on how the government was implementing the Southern African Development Community guidelines on elections.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2005-03-02 11:07

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 HARARE 000345







E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/02/2010





REF: (A) HARARE 318 (B) 2004 HARARE 2003 (C) 2004



Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.4 b/d


1. (C) SUMMARY: With just over four weeks to go before the

nation’s parliamentary elections, the GOZ continues to

implement measures to further its case that it is complying

with SADC election principles and guidelines. Many of the

measures have been superficial or incompletely implemented.

That said, most observers here agree that the pre-election

environment has improved considerably over the run-ups to the

parliamentary election of 2000 or the presidential election

of 2002. This cable provides a brief status report on

measures taken or being taken under each of the principal

SADC guidelines. END SUMMARY.



Full Participation of Citizens in Political Process (Sections

2.1.1 and 7.4)



2. (SBU) The new electoral law (refs B and C) has not led to

improvements in this area. It imposes greater restrictions

on the posting of campaign material and several MDC activists

reportedly have been arrested (and quickly released) in

connection with posting activities. The opposition also

reported at least three incidents in February in which ruling

party supporters assaulted MDC activists for posting or

distributing MDC campaign material; police have not taken

action in any of the instances. Local ZANU-PF elements in

some areas are reportedly disrupting MDC door-to-door

canvassing activities, as well. The Public Order and

Security Act (POSA) proscribes public criticism of the

President and at least four individuals reportedly have been

arrested during the past six months under this provision.

All were quickly released, in some cases after payment of a

nominal fine. The opposition reportedly is not permitted to

hold meetings or campaign in military or police installations

while the ruling party is afforded easy access to such



3. (SBU) In spite of legal and police restrictions, in

practice there appears to be more room for political

participation than during previous national elections.

Opposition and civil society contacts have told us that the

conspicuous presence and activities of pro-ZANU-PF youth

militia that pervaded the countryside in 2000 and 2002 so far

are lacking. An NGO representative advised that even in

remote areas, “pungwes” (long political indoctrination

sessions, complete with beatings, which many local

communities were forced to attend – sometimes for days) that

were common in the run-up to past elections are completely

absent. Political persuasion efforts now revolved more

around promise of benefits than threats, although residual

fear of violence remained considerable in many areas.

Opposition supporters were wearing MDC t-shirts in areas

where they previously could not do so without risking assault

by ruling party supporters.



Freedom of Association (Sections 2.1.2 and 7.4)



4. (SBU) Most opposition contacts report that MDC members

nationwide generally enjoy more latitude to assemble than in

past elections. Police have been more liberal in their

application of POSA and have permitted campaign rallies and

activities in all ten provinces, in contrast to a much more

restrictive environment during the past two national

elections.   Police still selectively apply POSA, which

requires notification of meetings to the police, strictly

against the MDC, whereas ZANU-PF in practice can conduct

meetings without regard to POSA requirements. MDC meetings

generally are monitored by police and closed down if they go

outside the terms of the POSA notification/approval. (Note:

By its terms, POSA only requires that authorities be given

prior notification of meetings, but in practice, the police

assert authority to ban, reschedule, or relocate meetings.

End note.) Some local opposition activists allege that

certain local areas remain “no-go” areas by virtue of

selective police use of POSA or intimidation by local ruling

party supporters.


Political Tolerance (Section 2.1.3)



5. (SBU) By most measures, levels of political tolerance

have improved markedly compared to 2000 and 2002. Cases of

politically motivated murder dropped from 48 in 2001 (the

last full year before a national election) to three in in

2004, while cases of torture dropped from 2245 in 2001 to 170

during the first 11 months of 2004 (latest statistics

available). The dramatic drops — more than 90 percent in

each category — follow nearly daily calls for tolerance and

non-violence by GOZ and ruling party leaders publicly and

privately over the past few months. The publicity campaign

represents a stark contrast to ruling party campaigns during

the past two national elections, in which many leaders

publicly called for forceful suppression of opposition

activities and, in some cases, were personally involved in

violence against MDC members.


6. (C) Anecdotal reports of violence during the past two

weeks are on the upswing compared to previous weeks, but the

month of February was still considerably less violent than

analogous periods preceding the last two national elections.

Opposition figures report that local ruling party structures,

recognizing their vulnerability without resort to violence,

are pushing leaders to permit them greater latitude in

resorting to violence. However, these same figures believe

it is too late for the regime to affect the election’s

outcome by turning to violence at this point. For now,

though, the leadership is sticking to public and private

pleas for tolerance, and NGO contacts tell us that prominent

leaders have warned local structures about political backlash

against ruling party violence. We have heard of numerous

instances in which the police have warned local leaders of

each party that the police will take action against

perpetrators of violence, regardless of political




Equal Access to State Media (Sections 2.1.5 and 7.4)



7. (C) The GOZ recently promulgated regulations providing

for access by all political parties to state media. MDC

spokesperson Paul Themba-Nyathi told the Embassy on March 1

that the party had bought 91 minutes of radio time and 91

minutes of TV time and was scheduled to air its first ad the

evening of March 1. In the meantime, state TV and radio

covered the MDC campaign launch, including the airing of

several minutes of a speech by MDC President Morgan

Tsvangirai, and has covered statements by various MDC



candidates. This marked much better coverage than in past

election campaigns and MDC and civil society sources claim

that it had a major effect on the electorate, galvanizing MDC

supporters who had previously been apathetic. The coverage

was still considerably less than state coverage of the ruling

party, which received hours of live coverage of the ZANU-PF

campaign launch, including a long speech by President Mugabe.

State broadcast and print media have significantly lowered

the level of vitriol directed against the opposition in its

news and editorial policy since the eclipse of Information

Minister Jonathan Moyo over the past few months.



Equal Opportunity to Vote and be Voted For (Sections 2.1.6

and 7.5)



8. (SBU) The exclusion the millions of Zimbabweans in the

diaspora from voting remains a prominent complaint from the

opposition and civil society and a serious electoral flaw.

The constitution provides for universal suffrage for citizens

but commits details to an election law. The recently enacted

election law bars absentee voting by those outside the

country except for diplomats and members of the armed

services. A citizens’ group filed an urgent application to

the Supreme Court on February 24 to compel the GOZ to

implement mechanisms to permit diaspora voting and the court

has reserved judgment. The Supreme Court found legislative

bars to diaspora voting in the last election to be

unconstitutional in February 2002, but by executive decree

under the Presidential Powers Act, the GOZ effectively kept

the diaspora from voting.


9. (SBU) Recent delimitation of constituencies resulted in

the elimination of three MDC seats and creation of three new

seats in areas of ruling party dominance. Although

population shifts would not seem to support this result, it

remains unclear whether the delimitation exercise, which has

been criticized bitterly by the opposition, actually violates

constitutional provisions governing delimitation.


10. (SBU) Non-transparency and manipulation of voter rolls

has underlain the rigging of past elections and, according to

the opposition, the state of the rolls remains a major

concern. It charges that some voters have been arbitrarily

removed from the rolls, which at the same time include names

of the deceased or of citizens who are not resident. Embassy

FSNs who examined voter rolls in their precincts reported

nothing untoward: they were afforded access on request, found

their names, and said they were relatively impressed by the

state of organization and automation at the inspection venue.

However, the rolls are only available for manual inspection,

which undermines confidence in their integrity. Withholding

electronic copies is contrary to the recommendations of the

relevant parliamentary portfolio committee on the election

law, which recommended that the Registrar General make a

national electronic copy available to the opposition,

allowing for a more systematic examination and analysis.



Election Institution Impartiality and Judicial Independence

(Sections 2.1.7 and 7.3)



11. (C) The GOZ consulted extensively with the MDC over the

appointment of the new Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC).

The opposition publicly expressed reservations about the ZEC

Chairman but accepted all of the five Commission member,s

appointments. Privately, MDC members advise that a majority

of the Commission can be counted on to be impartial and

reliable. The Electoral Commission Law provides that a

commissioner can only be removed for cause. More problematic

than the Commission’s identity and tenure are potential

resource constraints and the Commission,s overlapping

authority with other election-related institutions. Still

lacking a functioning office and secretariat, the Commission

must coordinate with the constitutionally mandated but

largely toothless Election Supervisory Commission, and the

constitutionally mandated and historically GOZ-aligned

Registrar General. The ESC and Registrar General are staffed

largely by civil servants and retired security force

personnel whose impartiality in many cases is doubtful. The

ruling party had wanted to consolidate these overlapping

authorities before the election but, lacking the

constitutional authority to do so, created a nominally more

independent ZEC in part to address its SADC electoral

obligations. Whether the confusing array of institutions

represents an improvement over prior elections remains to be



12. Supreme Court Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku in

February named three High Court justices to serve as an ad

hoc electoral court, a measure publicly welcomed by the

opposition. The new court is designed to deal with

election-related complaints expeditiously, within six months

at the most. Most election-related complaints associated

with the election five years ago were decided in favor of the

opposition but remain under appeal or, in some cases of final

orders, were never enforced. The new panel remains untested

so far, and it remains to be seen whether it will be capable

of administering justice more speedily or effectively.

Zimbabwean courts continue to be somewhat politicized or

disinclined to reach politically sensitive decisions,

although pockets of competence and integrity remain. For its

part, the GOZ has shown that it is prepared simply to ignore

unfavorable decisions.



Voter Education (Section 2.1.8)



13. (C) The new electoral law requires that voter education

conducted by civil society be approved by the ZEC and

conducted without foreign funds (political parties are not

constrained in their voter education efforts). We are

unaware of instances in which this provision has been

enforced, however, and civil society groups continue to

conduct voter education activities gingerly, even as ruling

party supporters have impeded some opposition party

activities involving voter education. However, NGOs involved

in voter education appear to have reduced their profiles in

recent months, probably in response to the electoral law

strictures and out of fear that the GOZ may target them under

the provisions of the as yet unsigned NGO bill. The

USAID-funded Zimbabwe Election Support Network, for example,

has put out radio, print, and billboard ads on voter

education, but has discontinued its voter education workshops

pending explicit approval from the ZEC.



Prevention of Rigging/Fraud (Section 7.5)



14. (SBU) The new electoral act incorporated several of the

measures recommended by the opposition to reduce fraud, e.g.,

use of translucent voting boxes, one-day voting,

vote-counting at the polling station. Opposition members,

however, now complain that the ruling party is manipulating

the new measures. They allege, for instance, that local

ruling party elements have tried to convince some voters that

the translucent boxes will permit government officials to

know how people voted, or that local vote-counting will

permit them to know how the individual community voted, with

attendant adverse consequences for the community. Opposition

sources have also complained that one-day may not be enough

time for all Zimbabweans to vote, especially those in urban

MDC strongholds where the number of polling places may be

deliberately insufficient.



Security for Participants (Section 7.7)



15. (C) Morgan Tsvangirai told the Ambassador last month that

the MDC had used the Police Commissioner’s national pledge to

crack down on all political violence to considerable effect

in engaging local police. The arrest of some ZANU-PF

supporters on assault-related charges and wide police

consultation with the MDC certainly mark departures from

earlier practice, but police continue to be reticent in many

cases to take action against ZANU-PF-initiated violence,

reduced as it may be.






16. (SBU) It is premature to judge the GOZ’s efforts in

meeting several other SADC electoral guidelines, such as the

adequacy of logistics (Section 7.6) and transparency of the

voting process/access for party and candidate representatives

(Section 7.8). GOZ invitations for a SADC observation

mission only went out in February, in clear violation of the

90-day advance notice required under Section 7.10. The GOZ

reportedly blocked an earlier visit by a SADC technical team

of lawyers assigned to examine the legal infrastructure to

support the election.






17. (C) Dramatic reductions in violence and opposition

access to national broadcast media are significant

improvements over past elections. We believe that

international scrutiny, coupled with Mugabe’s desire to claim

renewed legitimacy based on the elections, have contributed

to the improved climate. A key issue is whether Mugabe

miscalculated and, by offering the opposition a space, has

enabled the MDC to capitalize on the more relaxed conditions

to an extent unimaginable just months ago. On the other

side, the ruling party continues to use its considerable

systemic advantages to bolster its own election prospects and

is building from a position of strength resulting from years

of intimidation and intense polarization. At this juncture,

while it is clear that the GOZ’s legal framework has created

an “un-level playing field” from the outset, the real test

will be political — a statement that would hardly have

seemed possible even three months ago.



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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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