THE Commonwealth elections observer group led by former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama yesterday raised the red flag on Monday’s elections, saying their team had observed cases of intimidation using food aid and traditional leaders to galvanise support, as well as the huge number of assisted voters.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
In their preliminary statement report, the observers urged the leadership of political parties to demonstrate commitment to democracy, calm and tolerance.
The Commonwealth castigated Wednesday’s violent scenes involving MDC Alliance supporters. Mahama said it was unnecessary for Zimbabwe’s army to use force which resulted in the death of civilians.
“During our briefings and through our observations, we noted the use of incumbency to gain undue advantage, including the use of food aid and the role of traditional leaders in galvanising support for the governing party in a manner that may be described as a form of intimidation,” Mahama said.
“In one province, our team witnessed a concerning situation relating to the above issue which we will review more closely in our final report.”
Mahama said they were deeply concerned about the loss of civilian lives when protesters clashed with armed police and the military.
“In terms of civilian manifestations there are rules of engagement and circumstances in which live ammunition is used against citizens – I do not think that is right and we denounce the violent demonstrations that took place, but at the same time we do not think it is good to use excessive force on civilians,” he said.
“You do not use live ammunition on demonstrators, you use other forms like teargas, and we believe use of force was excessive.”
On media coverage during the elections, Mahama said it was tilted in favour of the ruling party.
“The State broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation had a patent tilt in coverage in favour of the governing party. There was disproportionate coverage for the governing party, Zanu PF in State-owned or controlled media including the ZBC and the Herald. This imbalance in coverage started well before the campaign began.”
The Commonwealth said they noted that public confidence in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission needed to be strengthened.