Why parallel vote tabulation becomes a problem

IT is not surprising but indeed disheartening that independent observers were arrested under charges that the police said would be revealed in court.

IT is not surprising but indeed disheartening that independent observers were arrested under charges that the police said would be revealed in court.

When it served the interests of Zanu PF, the party was comfortable with using civil society’s parallel vote tabulation (PVT) estimates. In Zanu PF’s opposing court papers to the MDC Alliance’s 2018 court challenge, which sought the nullification of the announcement of President Emmerson Mnangagwa as the winner, the following statements were made:

Paragraphs 4.5.24 - 4.5.26

I also attach herewith marked Annexure ‘CC,’ the official Zesn report on the elections being contested by the applicant. Annexure ‘CC’ demonstrates that the results announced by the 23rd and 24th respondents were well within their assessments. In fact, I received slightly fewer votes than some of their estimates ...

While someone might argue that Zanu PF’s reference to the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn)’s report shouldn't imply that conducting a PVT is acceptable, as Zanu PF is not responsible for administering elections, it’s worth noting that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) requested Zesn to conduct a PVT in 2023.

Between 2019 and 2022, Zec chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba acknowledged the identification of errors in Zec’s tallying by Zesn and the use of the PVT to verify Zec’s results.

She then explicitly asked Zesn to “set up” a panel of 10 civic society organisations (CSOs) and “develop your own parallel voter tabulation so that in 2023, you can assess whether the figures are mathematically correct or incorrect”.

Chigumba further added: “I challenge CSOs to, instead of repeating the narrative of calculation errors, engage in parallel voter tabulation.”

However, the Zec chairperson was incorrect in asserting that the PVT utilises all V11s from all polling stations. But this is not so because Zesn had not been clear about it.

The PVT methodology was elucidated in Zesn’s election report submitted to Zec and a report cited by Zanu PF in its opposing court papers, as indicated above.

On November 2, 2022, NewsDay published an article titled Zesn sets record straight on voter tabulation. Zesn was compelled to respond to a story titled CCC rural gain alarms Zanu PF, which reportedly quoted a Zanu PF central committee report released at the ruling party’s 7th national people’s congress.

According to the NewsDay article, the Zanu PF central committee report alleged that “... Zesn and the ERC [Election Resource Centre] are planning to conduct parallel voter tabulation during the 2023 harmonised elections. In pursuit of this, they will deploy election observers at all polling stations, doubling as CCC [Citizens Coalition for Change] agents. These agents will send results to established command centres, consolidating results before Zec’s announcement. If Zec announces results different from theirs, they intend to initiate violent protests. This plan poses a threat of chaos, turmoil and a significant security risk. These same organisations are also sponsoring the ‘Defend Your Vote’ operation, in which all CCC members will vote and remain at polling stations until results are announced, awaiting further instruction from their leadership.”

In response, Zesn asserted its status as a law-abiding organisation aiming to promote peaceful democratic elections in Zimbabwe, in an impartial manner that does not endorse any political party or candidate. It clarified that, in compliance with sections 66A and 66(3)(a) and (b) of the Electoral Act, it would not announce election results.

Moreover, Zesn clarified its practice of not recruiting observers from political parties and deploying independent observers rather than political agents. The organisation “emphatically” denied any connection to the CCC or collaboration with it for a PVT.

In 2023, Zanu PF once again made accusations, alleging that ERC and Zesn were involved in a plan to train agents for all political parties contesting in the 2023 election.

Given that Zanu PF acknowledged the value of the PVT in 2018 and Zec recognised it to the extent of inviting Zesn to conduct it again, when did the PVT turn into a problem, and why?

The police stated that the arrests made during the raids on CSOs on the night of the election were based on the reason that these organisations intended to announce election results, a function reserved for Zec alone.

In 2018, Zesn only shared its “projections” after Zec’s official results announcement. Those arrested were detained without having committed the offence of result announcement.

This raises another question: What does “official” announcement of results by Zec mean?

By the time senior Zanu PF member Patrick Chinamasa made a Press statement claiming his party’s victory based on V11s sent by their agents, Zec may have already posted all polling station-level election returns (V11s).

However, does posting results outside a polling station after polling station-level announcement qualify as the “official announcement of results”, particularly for the presidential election?

Self-exiled former Cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo, for example, has indicated on X (formerly Twitter) that, “A V11 does not reflect or show the winner of any of the three elections: Local authority, National Assembly, or Presidential election”.

Regarding the presidential election specifically, Moyo tweeted that “the initial result of the presidential election winner is shown by the V23D, certified by the chief elections officer from the national command centre”.

Chinamasa alluded to form V23B (used to announce a winning National Assembly candidate) when mentioning Zanu PF’s tally being consistent with Zec’s National Assembly results announcements.

But what about the V23D for the presidential election? If CSOs were, as alleged, guilty of intending to announce election results (even though they hadn’t announced their “projections” based on observer reports), what about Chinamasa’s pronouncements, including those related to the presidential election, made before Zec officially announced results at the national command centre level?

Rekai Rusinga is a political science graduate student with the University of California, USA

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