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Zimbabwe-EU relations deteriorates over disputed polls

EU Election Observer Mission Chief Observer Fabio Castaldo
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HARARE – Zimbabwe-EU relations take a turn for the worse after the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Zimbabwe releases its final report on the August 2023 elections.

The EU Observer Mission accuses the Zimbabwean government of blocking the presentation of its final election report by imposing restrictions on the delegation.

In the aftermath of the polls, the EU Embassy in Harare announced that Brussels would withdraw its 5 million US dollars in financial support to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. This is due to a lack of independence and transparency and how the Commission conducted the country’s August general elections.

The European Union was one of the many election observers invited by the Zimbabwean government to observe Zimbabwe’s recently held election. It dispatched its election observer mission in July. It also produced its preliminary report a couple of days after polling which cited a number of anomalies.

EU Election Observer Mission Chief Observer Fabio Castaldo explains, “The EU EOM was meant to return to the country some three months after the elections. The purpose of the return visit was, as is standard practice, to present the mission’s final report to the authorities and public within the country. The return visit of the EU EOM to Zimbabwe was foreseen and arrangements were signed by the EU delegation and the Zimbabwean ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Unfortunately, the conditions did not allow for it to take place. Prior to the deployment of the mission, it became clear that the Zimbabwean authorities lack the political will to allow the EU EOM visit to be carried out according to its longstanding methodology.”

The observer mission further claims they were not able to meet and engage with key stakeholders.

“The mission faced significant challenges to meet with officials at a national level despite repeated requests. This includes, just to give an example, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) which the EU EOM was able to meet once in all our observations. It was unfortunately equally unavailable for the meetings with the chief observer and European parliament delegation while other observer organisations were granted repeated access several times. Such behavior is unprecedented in my long time as a politician, parliamentarian, and observer.”

The Zimbabwean government has dismissed the report as biased and misleading. Zimbabwean Information Minister, Jenfan Muswere says the reports were manipulated the discredit the election outcome.

“The government is fully aware of the EU EOM’s irregular nocturnal meetings with opposition political players outside conventional election observation parameters. We also know that the EU disbursed campaign funds to a particular opposition party in flagrant violation of the Political Parties Finances Act. We also have substantial evidence of the EU EOM’s clandestine operations with other election observer missions (EOMS) for the purpose of manipulating their reports to discredit the election outcome. At the same time, the government is aware of the colonial traditional reactionary aspersions of those perennially inclined to subvert the will of our people by misrepresenting facts about Zimbabwe’s political environment before, during, and after the elections.”

The government further warns of attempts to interfere with the country’s internal processes.

“Government condemns the unwarranted attack on the entire legal framework of the elections as it relates to the: constitutional mandate of Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in the running of the elections in Zimbabwe; parliament’s law-making prerogative and its independence with respect to the cited amendments; delimitation process as spelt out in section 160-161 of the constitution of Zimbabwe; independence and transparency of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC); and efficient administrative function of the entire election life-cycle by ZEC. To this end, ZEC complied with its constitutionally demanded duties in promoting voter registration, voter verification and voter education which produced an inclusive, credible, free, and fair outcome.”

Although the EU Election Observer Mission report also concurs in most of its findings with the SADC Election Observer Mission final report, which described the country’s polls as falling short of internal, regional and international standards, the Zimbabwean authorities maintain the reports were premeditated and in support of the opposition.

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