AU poll observer team arrives in Zim – 19 June 2013

SW Radio Africa - By Nomalanga Moyo

19 June 2013

A 10-member African Union (AU) team arrived in Zimbabwe this week to assess prevailing conditions ahead of the country’s elections.

Idrissa Kamara is leading the AU pre-observer mission whose members are drawn from Zambia, South Africa, Lesotho, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Republic of South Sudan, according to state media reports.

Kondwane Chirambo of Zambia will be coordinating the team which is expected to be joined by more members closer to the election date. Nine members of the team are expected to remain in the country for the duration of the election period.

Chirambo is familiar with Zimbabwean politics, having spent several years in the country working for the Harare-based Southern African Research and Documentation Centre.

The pre-observer team has already met with civil society groups, who raised the issue of the need for objectivity by the team in assessing electoral processes.

This is the first time that the AU team has arrived in the country well before the elections and some observers have said this could be an indication of how serious the continental body is about ensuring that Zimbabwe holds credible polls

Dr Solomon Zwana, chairperson of poll observer group the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN), told SW Radio that civic groups were happy with the presence of the AU team in the country.

“Of course we would have wanted a larger contingent but at the end of the day it is not the number that matters but the quality of their observations.

“A lot will depend on the methodology that they will use to observe the process, but we hope they will not be biased,” Zwana said.

Some of the concerns raised by civil society groups during the meeting with the AU team Tuesday included outstanding media and security sector reforms, the registration of civil society groups to enable them to participate in the electoral processes, as well as the timing and date of the elections.

As part of their mission, the AU team is expected to assess the general electoral environment, including the voter registration exercise, the electoral laws, whether ZEC is ready and well-prepared for the elections, and also whether the general environment is conducive for a free and credible election.

Regional body, the Southern African Development Community, is yet to send an observer mission into the country. SADC executive secretary Tomaz Salomão told SW Radio Africa Monday that the process of training the observers was already under way, although he declined to say when they will be deployed.

It is still unclear when Zimbabweans will go to the ballot. President Mugabe’s bid to impose a July 31st date was foiled by SADC leaders who asked the unity government to seek an extension from the Constitutional Court which had ordered that polls be held by that date.