HARARE – The practice of observing elections is aimed at ensuring the transparency of an election.
Impartial observation of the electoral process can also help ensure the credibility of elections.
Election observation is concerned with electoral outcomes only to the degree that they are reported honestly and accurately.
In addition to providing credible information on an electoral process, the presence of election observers builds voter confidence in the integrity of the process. The practice also helps to deter or expose violence or intimidation, as well as cheating or manipulation of the vote or election results.
Therefore, the role of observers is critical.
Zimbabwe has invited observers to the elections to be held tomorrow.
The elections come after the 2008 runoff condemned by observers and the international community as illegitimate.
The Pan African Parliament (Pap) observer team, in particular, issued a frank assessment after the runoff, impugning it as falling way short of the standards of a democratic election.
The report represented a refreshing departure from a trend that endorsed flawed elections in Africa. Election observing does not confine itself to the voting tomorrow.
Here, there have been incidents of violence in some places but the occurrences have, comparatively, been minimal — perhaps an indication of the effect of candidates’ calls for peace.
However, the reduction or eradication of physical violence alone, commendable as that maybe, is not sufficient to lend integrity to elections.
An honest account of Zimbabwe’s elections cannot discount the structural issues that have haunted these polls.
The MDC has flagged up numerous cases of “structural violence,” much more insidious than physical violence that has preoccupied the African Union (AU).
Structural violence has even much more serious impact on electoral outcomes.
The failure to implement reforms, for instance, has resulted in such structural violence.
More recently, the MDC has raised issues of voter registration, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec)’s failure to provide the voters’ roll, list of polling stations, suspicion over the printing of ballot papers, among other issues.
In short, the concerns have centred on the possibility of vote-rigging.
Judging from the comments of the AU Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma, however, violence would seem uppermost of AU’s concerns.
It is a genuine concern.
Dlamini-Zuma seemed, nonetheless, to ignore other concerns raised by the MDC.
She then claimed all contestants were content with the pre-election conditions, drawing a sharp rebuke from MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Dlamini-Zuma has compromised the work of the AU observer mission.
Before she became AU Commission chief, Dlamini-Zuma was South Africa’s Foreign Affairs minister at the time Thabo Mbeki was the mediator in Zimbabwe’s conflict.
It is not a secret that relations between Tsvangirai and Mbeki were not cordial.
When Tsvangirai says he knows Dlamini-Zuma’s background, he is referring to the hostile approach of the Mbeki regime towards him at the time.
Dlamini-Zuma’s temperament, while fielding questions at a press conference last week, was rather undiplomatic.
Her brusque demeanour suggested that anything that challenged the integrity of the elections would eviscerate the “good work” by the AU so far.
While the AU pre-election report released afterwards may have been couched in much more diplomatic semantics, it did not seem to give sufficient weight to the concerns raised by the MDC.
While the report acknowledges the grievances, it seemed to gloss over, if not dismiss them, as if inconsequential to a credible election.
It would seem the AU is impatient to dispense with the Zimbabwe crisis, the monkey on its back for a number of years now.
Its approach may not be “see no evil or hear no evil” but appears to downplay the “evil” in order to get elections over and done with.
The AU would, however, be making a mistake if it ignores problems besetting this election; it will have the monkey on its back for some time to come.
Zimbabweans are going into a flawed election tomorrow, and must do so in large numbers nonetheless.
Observers must, however, be honest or be part of the problem, and not the solution to the Zimbabwe crisis.