THE European Union (EU) is reportedly planning to convince President Robert Mugabe’s government to allow United Nations emissaries to observe the 2018 elections, NewsDay has learnt.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Diplomatic sources told NewsDay that Britain was pushing for the adoption of a resolution within the EU to force Zimbabwe to accept UN observers “in order to avoid a repeat of the disputes that have characterised previous elections”.
“Britain is concerned about the effects of another contested poll, hence, it is doing everything to try and have the EU as a bloc to persuade Mugabe to accept a UN-supervised or at the very least monitored one in 2018,” a diplomatic source in Harare said.
“In fact, the EU is already supporting Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) with financial and technical assistance in the build-up to the poll that is expected to be viciously fought, given there is a likelihood that the ruling Zanu PF could field a candidate other than Mugabe.”
Contacted for comment early this week, the British embassy in Harare could neither confirm nor deny the claims.
“It is very important that any future Zimbabwean elections are carried out in compliance with regional and international best practice, and in line with the Sadc principles and guidelines, which call for effective domestic and international observation. This has consistently been the UK’s position over a number of electoral cycles,” the embassy said in a statement to NewsDay.
Contacted for comment yesterday, Information minister, Christopher Mushohwe said: “I do not have background to these issues in order to make an informed position except for newspaper reports and what you are telling me now. But I will try to check the linkage between these issues of biometric voting, the EU’s technical assistance to Zec and the 2018 elections.”
Mugabe, 91, has already been declared the Zanu PF candidate for the 2018 elections, although there are growing fears that age and failing health could force him to retire earlier than expected.
The EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Philippe van Damme, was coy when NewsDay contacted him for comment on the issue, saying it was “a bit pre-mature” to talk about the monitoring of an election that is still almost 30 months away.
“Election observation is decided at a later stage and we are looking at the second half of 2017 or early 2018 when the government will invite the international community to have a look at the situation in the country ahead of the elections,” he said yesterday.
He, however, revealed that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) late last year had a “needs assessment team in Zimbabwe”.
“In October last year, the UNDP had a team in Zimbabwe to assess Zec’s electoral needs. There is a draft agreement that the government is now studying so they will have to make a decision. Once a decision is made, we will expect the government or Zec to call for an all-stakeholders meeting at which finer details should be discussed and agreed upon,” the EU representative said.
“As for the issue of the biometric voting system, it is not up to the EU, but the government and stakeholders in Zimbabwe. Once they agree, there will need to be a budget that can then be supported by international partners. The support from the international community cannot be substitutive.”
Without necessarily responding directly to questions on the matter, the British embassy in Harare yesterday insisted future polls in Zimbabwe should be held in accordance with regional bloc Sadc guidelines governing the conduct of elections.
Zec chairperson, Justice Rita Makarau confirmed that the electoral management body had received some technical assistance from the UNDP.
“We are still working on modalities of working together, but the UNDP has provided assistance to allow us to hire consultants. It is out of these consultations that we will come up with a project or projects to be funded,” said Justice Makarau.
Asked if these projects could include a biometric voting system for 2018, the Zec boss said: “The consultations will look at voting systems and biometric is just, but one of them.”
Meanwhile, opposition parties have welcomed the demand for the UN to observe the 2018 elections.
“We welcome this especially given the fact that the UN is working with Zec. It is not sufficient, but fundamental. However, we need to know the role of the Executive in the running of elections because there are some decisions that will affect this process and outcomes materially,” MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai said.
People’s Democratic Party leader Tendai Biti said while his party welcomed the call for a UN-supervised election, he did not see Zanu PF agreeing to the demands.
“It is the right thing to do. Zec needs funding and technical support and Zimbabwe does not have the money for elections, but they cannot expect the money to come without preconditions for compliance with international best practices and standards.
“It is important to understand from the outset that given the history of Zanu PF, we will be naïve to think that they will accept such demands. They will obviously find it very hard to comply,” he said yesterday.
But Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn leader Simba Makoni said there would be no need for foreign “overseeing or supervision” of elections in Zimbabwe if the government complies with local, regional and international provisions that “it has signed to” governing the conduct of elections.
“The fact that we have not had free and fair elections in Zimbabwe is not for lack of laws or provisions in this regard. It is because we have a government that has consistently sought to disregard the Constitution, the Electoral Act and provisions governing the conduct of free and fair elections to which it signed.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to Sadc, African Union and UN provisions governing the conduct of elections.
“If we comply with these including inviting international observers, there would be no need for anyone to ‘oversee’ our electoral processes,” he said.