The first large-scale election observation was of Zimbabwe's 1980 independence elections. This is where every organisation was invited. Feeling proud of what Zimbabwe achieved the former colonisers rewarded Mugabe by awarding him a lot of awards. He was even knighted by the Queen of England the highest honour given to a foreign leader. Mugabe became a darling of the West and Zimbabwe was made a model of peace and reconciliation. Since then, election observation has become a regular worldwide feature and many international organisations, official agencies, and non-governmental organisations field observation teams. Unfortunately not even one acknowledges that this openness and transparency started in Zimbabwe. There is now a business of election observing where observers are paid for their part in elections. They all use similar methodologies, largely derived from the original 1980 model of Zimbabwe.
Big nations who wanted to exert their influency in other countries started paying onservers and sponsoring them. This then compromised the observers and their recommendations after observations were tainted with allegiance. Then it became clear that the observers will condemn elections where their preferred parties have lost. They will then give pressure on the winners to have a rerun or face condemnation. The end was the piling of sanctions and a clear shift against the winners. Most election observers are now not credible but because they are sponsored by the super powers they force themselves on the elections and cause a lot of confusion.
Because they control the press they unleash negative reports until the winners are declared illegal regime and elections are declared not free and fair. So free and fair is decided by those who do not use observers for their elections. Those who do not have free and fair are the once who become judges of fairness in other jurisdictions. Because of this massive bullying and unfairness, it may be time to consider whether the use of electoral observation has outlived its usefulness – or is itself being used to mask forms of electoral cheating. It is time to redefine what is free and fair and what is illegally elected government.
We should look at this through the reflections of a pioneer of the 1980s observation prototype.
It is indeed the elections of 1980 in Zimbabwe which brought about key words in the election process. The Keywords are election observation, free and fair, peaceful and credible, plausible, algorithm.
The Commonwealth Secretariat played a major diplomatic and advisory role leading to the Lancaster House negotiations in late 1979, which established the preconditions for Zimbabwe's independence after years of war between Rhodesian white settlers and two guerrilla armies who sought majority rule. Their role in Zimbabwe gave them a credibility and set them as the international observers of elections.
Those preconditions included an election, free campaigning by those previously outlawed, and a truce. Ramphal had inserted into the final Lancaster House agreement a provision that the elections and campaign were to be observed independently of the warring parties and the British government that temporarily assumed responsibility for the country. A small party from the Commonwealth Secretariat was sent to Rhodesia with the brief both to establish a headquarters for observation, and to work out whether and how observation could be conducted. There were no detailed instructions. Electoral observation had not been attempted before, certainly not on this scale. The organisers – had no advance idea of what they were doing.
This the created the now celebrated election observers Since then, many elections in Africa and elsewhere, are observed. Most observers have now become bureaucratically more robust (or fussy), but they had acquired no greater depth or forensic capacity.
"After acting as a solo observer in the 2013 and 2018 Zimbabwean elections and Zambia's 2016 elections, and watching the observer groups as well as the elections very closely, I concluded that electoral observation, while not worthless, has limited worth."
This observation tells us that election observation is now just dressing a copse. Which is necessary but not important. Chan made very interesting observations on the elections in Uganda in December 1980 which were won by Milton Obote, whom Amin had overthrown in 1971 and who had taken exile in neighbouring Tanzania.
"But Tanzania, which had overthrown Amin, was a key power-broker in Uganda. It wanted stability in its neighbour and Obote was the preferred choice of Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. That in itself was unavoidable, given the terrible administration of Amin, but the 1980 elections were certainly unfair, and to a greater or lesser extent rigged. Certainly, afterwards, one of the Commonwealth Secretariat members present accepted that they were rigged. The electoral commission was not impartial and the country had insufficient public administrative infrastructure to hold a nationwide election. The Economist described the Commonwealth Observer Group (COG) as ‘shameful' for validating it despite the misgivings of its own chairman, although a critical but more measured academic response suggested the Commonwealth sought to maintain some means of influencing Obote in his future conduct as president"(Willis, Lynch & Cheeseman)
This shows that observers chose who do they want to win and they influence the outcome of elections.
It becomes questionable to declare elections in Zimbabwe as rigged or not free and fair based on the observers who are handled by the regime change engineers.
The narrative that Zimbabwean elections have been rigged and that the current or past victories are a result of fraud is just but a desperate cry of a defeated party.
Zimbabwe will enter in the History books as the first country which brought in free and fair elections and introduced transparent elections.
As Always ZANU PF has nothing to hide in all elections it allows observers to come and observe. There has never been foreign observers in England America or any other European country. The pressure put by those who never have to invite observers in their own country is appalling.
It should be stated that ZANU PF can not be said to be a rigging party. It is the pioneer of transparency fairness free and secure elections ever.
No matter what the world says we as Zimbabweans should put our heads high and know that we are the champions of fairness and freedom.
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