HARARE, Aug 25 (Reuters) – Preliminary results emerging from Zimbabwe’s parliamentary election indicated an expanding advantage for the ruling party on Friday, yet observers of the electoral process expressed reservations, asserting that the voting fell short of international standards and was carried out in an atmosphere characterized by apprehension.
Following the parliamentary and presidential poll held on Wednesday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF party was widely anticipated to maintain its four-decade-long hold on power.
According to figures compiled by state broadcaster ZBC, ZANU-PF secured victory in 101 parliamentary constituencies, while the main opposition party, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), emerged victorious in 59, out of the total 210 constituencies.
The outcome of the presidential election is still pending and is expected to be disclosed within five days of the voting date.
President Mnangagwa, aged 80, is pursuing re-election at a juncture when the nation in southern Africa is grappling with rampant inflation and high unemployment. Many Zimbabweans rely on remittances in foreign currency from relatives abroad to sustain their livelihoods.
His primary contender is Nelson Chamisa, a 45-year-old lawyer and pastor.
The successful resolution of Zimbabwe’s debt crisis and the prospect of obtaining financial aid from institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund hinge on the outcome. International lenders have stipulated that a genuinely free and impartial vote is a prerequisite for any substantive negotiations.
While the government and the electoral commission had pledged a fair election process, certain political analysts cautioned that the circumstances were prone to significant bias in favor of Mnangagwa’s faction, given the historical pattern of his party leveraging state apparatuses to influence electoral outcomes.
Fabio Massimo Castaldo, the leader of the European Union’s observer mission, noted, “Restricted rights and an uneven playing field created an environment that did not consistently facilitate voters in making unfettered and well-informed choices.” Speaking at a press conference in the capital city of Harare, he added that acts of violence and intimidation had fostered an atmosphere of fear, further stating that the election did not fulfill international benchmarks for transparency.
[1/6]A vendor of wigs sits on a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, on August 25, 2023, as the vote counting for the general election progresses. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo Acquire Licensing Rights
In an incident detailed by Castaldo, members of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network and the Election Resource Centre (ERC), both civil society organizations that had positioned themselves as election monitors for the sake of democratic principles, were apprehended by the police in a forceful manner. The ERC later shared on the platform X (formerly known as Twitter) that 16 of its personnel, along with members of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, were released on $200 bail each by a magistrate.
An observer delegation from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) reported that the voting transpired in a peaceful manner, although it noted concerns such as voting delays, restrictions on rallies, partiality in state media coverage, and the electoral commission’s failure to grant candidates access to the voters’ list.
Nevers Mumba, the leader of the SADC observer team, conveyed, “Certain aspects of the harmonized elections did not fully align with the requirements stipulated in the Zimbabwean constitution, the Electoral Act, and the guiding principles of the SADC for democratic elections.”
Patrick Chinamasa, ZANU-PF’s secretary for finance, stated late on Thursday that the ruling party was poised to secure a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, while he anticipated that Mnangagwa would obtain “60%-65% of the vote.” Chinamasa dismissed Chamisa’s assertion of leading in the polls as “wishful thinking.”
Eldred Masunungure, a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, expressed concerns that if ZANU-PF were to attain a two-thirds majority, it might endeavor to enact legislation aimed at consolidating its control, possibly including the removal of the two-term limit on presidential tenures.
In a statement to state media the previous week, President Mnangagwa affirmed that if he were granted a second term, it would be his final one. Mnangagwa assumed office after the removal of long-standing leader Robert Mugabe in a 2017 coup and secured a contested victory in the 2018 election.
Similar to previous elections, the parliamentary results seem to indicate ZANU-PF’s continued influence in rural areas, while the CCC managed to garner support in urban constituencies.