“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” Abraham Lincoln
On the 27th of August 2022, Gokwe Kabuyuni Constituency had a by-election to elect a new member of parliament following the passing of Hon Leornard Chikomba (ZANU-PF) who died in a car accident in May this year. The by election was won by ZANU PF Candidate Spencer Tshuma who polled 10727 votes against Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) Costin Muguti who gannered 4800 votes. Elections in Zimbabwe are governed by a set of legal instruments that includes the Constitution, Electoral Act, Statutory Instruments and Regulations. The law in terms of Sections 158 (3) and 159 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, and Section 39 of the Electoral Act provides timeframe and conditions on how by-elections should be held after a seat falls vacant. As part of its mandate, ZimRights’ Human Rights Monitoring and Response action zone and the Elections and Democracy Zone observed and recorded incidences of election-related human rights violations which took place in Gokwe Kabuyani before and during the by-election. The action zones were able to come up with a detailed report which captures key observations and a set of recommendations that are targeted at making the election process more peaceful and democratic.
- The pre-election period was marred with political intimidation, violence and a reign of terror which left most villagers in that constituency in fear of their lives. Before and during the election, human rights monitors observed cars branded with ZANU-PF logos going around the constituency intimidating people, threatening them that if the candidate of the ruling party Spancer Tshuma does not win, villages will be burnt like what happened in 2008. The cars were observed in areas like Nenyunga, Chitekete, Masakadza, Mutimutema, Zhomba, Madzovazvido and Siamuchembu. The political environment prior to the polling day was very tense and marred with bloody violence. One CCC supporter who cannot be mentioned by name and believed to be in his 70s was allegedly captured and had poured hot water on him, leaving him badly injured.
- Village heads were tasked to identify suspected opposition supporters who were then excluded from food distributions (rice and maize donations) which were being distributed during the pre-election period. Rice was distributed in Madzovazvido and Chitekete during the pre-election period. This was clear vote buying and partisan distribution of aid and this is against the Electoral Act and it violates the principles of a free and fair election.
- On the 25th of August 2022, the Citizen Coalition for Change had a rally at Siamuchembu 1 ground. This was the day when violence, perpetrated by the ruling party, openly manifested. Armed militias barricaded the roads from Gokwe Center to Chitekete forcing suspected CCC supporters who were going to rally to go back, beating them and destroying the vehicles carrying them.
- Journalists who had come to cover the event were thoroughly beaten at Chitekete Shopping Center and had the keys of their car taken away by the militias.
- On election day, polling was generally well administered by ZEC with due processes and procedures being followed, except for a few instances where the voters’ roll was not visible to most of the voters. While the election day was largely peaceful, there were reports of some people who were writing down names of voters close to polling stations and this caused a lot of intimidation amoungst voters. As a result, most of the people who were interviewed indicated that they ended up not freely expressing themselves in the ballot.
- A high number of assisted voters were noted, which is a clear sign of voter intimidation. 1500 assisted voters in a constituency by-election is a mockery to the people of Gokwe Kubuyani.
- Voters Roll- Civil Society organisations bemoaned the failure by ZEC to provide voters roll to all the contesting parties. Failure to provide a voter’s roll makes the elections dubious and suspicious and this also undermines the credibility of an election process. However, ZEC is commended for displaying the voters roll at polling stations, two days before the by-election, assisting voters to know their eligibility to participate in the elections.
- Polling procedures were duly followed in accordance with the law, for example checking of voters’ names on the voters roll and checking their finger for ink before they could be allowed to vote. Ballot papers were stamped with an official ZEC stamp before being issued to voters.
In view of the observations made, there is need to implement the following recommendations
- ZEC should ensure that the Voters Roll displayed outside of polling stations is easy to read by enlarging the font used and perhaps adding photographs to the same to allow for easier verification of the persons on such rolls.
- ZEC should improve voter education on the use of different timelines for the closure of the National Assembly Voters’ Roll and the Local Authority Voters Roll. Robust Civic and Voter Education targeting the youth should be undertaken to promote voter registration in view of the upcoming delimitation exercise and the 2023 Harmonised Elections.
- The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission and other stakeholders should conduct peace building initiatives targeting local communities and their leadership to reduce incidences of violence and intimidation during by-elections and ahead of the 2023 Harmonised Elections.
- Government should ensure equality before the law as well as the equal enjoyment of civil and political rights by all political players.
- In view of the observations made, there is need for robust civic and voter education interventions encouraging voters to vote in elections; peace building initiatives targeting political parties and local communities and their leadership to reduce incidences of violence and intimidation;
- The increasing number of journalists who are being harassed at political gatherings by different political parties is worrying and should not be condoned. Journalism is not a crime and all journalists in the country should be allowed to carry out their duties without any encumbrance.