Commonwealth trashes Zimbabwean polls scuttling readmittance chances

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HARARE – The contested August general elections have cast a shadow over Zimbabwe’s bid to rejoin the Commonwealth after the bloc flagged the credibility of the recently held polls.

In a letter responding to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s request for an update, Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland said there are numerous concerns about Zimbabwe’s re-admission in line with recent human rights violations.

Scotland revealed that the final decision on Zimbabwe will be made this coming Saturday at a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Samoa.

The recently concluded general elections were marred with irregularities, stifling of civic space, arbitrary arrests, and intimidation, according to several election observer mission reports.

The letter which fell short of rejecting Zimbabwe’s re-admission, highlighted numerous red flags during the elections including the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) lack of transparency and logistical problems.

“As you are aware, the key principles for any country joining or rejoining the commonwealth are Adherence to Commonwealth Values: The applying country must adhere to the values of the Commonwealth, which include strict observance to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, as outlined in the Harare Declaration and reaffirmed in the Charter of the Commonwealth.

“Numerous concerns on Zimbabwe’s suitability have been raised in these critical areas. Many have also been raised as a direct result of Zimbabwe’s recent election,” read the letter.

“The EU EOM identified an environment not always conducive to free and informed voting in the 2023 elections due to limited rights and an uneven playing field. Incidences of violence and intimidation, including the arrest of members from observer organizations ZESN and ERC as well as opposition representatives created a fearful climate.”

According to Scotland, the campaign offered varied viewpoints but lacked a level playing field, especially concerning freedom of assembly.

“The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) faced issues like lack of transparency and logistical problems, impacting public trust and causing polling station delays.

“Lack of ballot forms, despite assuring observers that everything would be ready for the election saw many voters failing to vote,” the Commonwealth said.

During the election period, state-controlled media, according to Scotland, notably favoured the ruling party and government in its coverage.

Scotland said state media propelled propaganda after they claimed that observer bodies commended the apparent freeness and fairness of elections.

“The EU EOM and SADC missions experienced assessment difficulties and targeted by disinformation campaigns on several platforms. As well as smear campaigns,” read the report.

The Commonwealth Secretary General added: “It concerns us greatly that the faults highlighted on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission illicit-ed an angry response by members of his excellency’s government which was most unusual as flaws should be welcomed to improve the effectiveness of this independent body.

“As an independent body, it was a conflict of interest for ZEC to be defended by your government. It also resulted in threats against the current president and former vice president of Zambia which was also highly unusual and inflammatory.”

Almost 20 years after leaving the Commonwealth, Zimbabwe has since 2018 been trying to rejoin the organisation. – NewZim