Election Observation in Zimbabwe: Opportunities, Challenges, and Constraints

Election Observation in Zimbabwe: Opportunities, Challenges, and Constraints

Sylvester Marumahoko (University of Johannesburg, South Africa)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/IJPAE.2020100103
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Election observation is fast emerging as a central tenet of preserving and extending democracy in Africa and other parts of the world. It is also evolving as the flagship of democracy promotion and the best-funded type of democracy-related assistance. Since the end of the Cold War, hundreds of elections held in Africa have been the subject of election observation involving hordes of local, regional, and international observers. The scrutiny comes against the backdrop of the African Union (AU) and membership regional bodies resolving to make election observation a component of all polls conducted in Africa. The article explores the opportunities, challenges, and constraints to election observation in Zimbabwe. The general conclusion of the article is that election observation is crucial for the realisation of democratic polls in Zimbabwe.
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It has been noted that over the last decade, there has been a gradual decline in the quality of democracy in the world. According to Freedom House, in 2017, 71 out of the 195 countries in the world experienced significant declines in political rights and civil liberties. At the same time, only 35 of the 195 countries registered gains. It does not get better. According to Cheeseman and Klaas (2018, p. 2), today, close to two in three people in the world live under a semi-democratic system. The strategies used by governing parties to tip electoral outcomes include biased voter registration, manipulating the voter rolls, disenfranchising opposition supporters, banning opposition candidates from contesting, and distorting election constituencies to increase the possibility of amassing more votes (Cheeseman and Klaas, 2018, p. 3; Business Day, 2018, p. 1).

The above tactics are accompanied by election campaigns in which autocrats pledge to allow citizens to cast ballots to choose their leaders. This way autocrats have perfected the scheme of manipulating elections without breaking any laws. Cheeseman and Klaas (2018, p. 3) developed a scale for assessing the health of elections. The scale ranges from one to 10 with 10 reflecting a perfect election and one reflecting the worst possible. The researchers concluded that the average election around the world scores just six (Cheeseman and Klaas, 2018, p. 3). In Africa, Asia, post-communist Europe, and the Middle East, the figure is nearer to five. The study also found that globally, only about 30% of elections result in a change of government and handover of power (Cheeseman and Klass, 2018, p. 4). Yet another finding is that incumbents or their parties prevail seven times out of 10 in elections.

Ronceray and Byiers (2019) point out that although more elections are taking place on the continent than ever before, less than one in six major elections in Africa result in a full transfer of power (p. 1). In this regard, they note that six of the world’s ten longest-serving presidents are in Africa. They further noted that the methods used to manipulate elections include altering the formal rules of the game, for instance by amending a presidential term limit in the constitution or changing electoral districts through a legal process; negotiating power sharing schemes; and ballot-box stuffing. The African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Federation (2020) has noted that although there have been significant advances made in consolidating democracy across the African continent, disputed elections are casting doubt on the promotion and attainment of good governance (p. 1). It also opines that weak electoral institutions and legislation are causes of electoral crises on the continent.

Generally, election observation assists advance political competition where voters are able to make an informed choice between distinct alternatives. In addition, election observation facilitates for orderly political succession, for better politicians to assume public office, encourages better governance, confers legitimacy on those who govern and enhances the opportunity for political formations to choose candidates based on meritocracy and not loyalty (Carothers, 1997, p. 21). It is also said that election observation plays an important role of facilitating competitive elections and providing for politicians to be more responsive to voters after fiercely contested elections (Gottlieb and Kosec, 2019; Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2008).

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