Zimbabwe has a history of elections that are far from free and fair – and several ominous developments suggest that nothing will different at the end of July, when the country votes in the first election since the resignation of Robert Mugabe. Of particular concern is the apparent complicity of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which is issuing controversial new voting regulations that undermine the secrecy of the ballot. As in previous polls, the commission has become increasingly obstructive to engagement as the elections draw closer. Another major worry is the unconstitutional nature of the ballot itself, which features two columns, with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s face at the top of the right-hand column. Although the ballot should have been in alphabetical order, it is not – apparently to allow the president to occupy the prime position at the top. This attempt to give the ruling Zanu-PF an advantage and has been roundly criticised by opposition parties and civil society groups. It is a blatant example of partisanship and undermines the last vestiges of ZEC independence.
In a shock new change, the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission (ZEC) is to adjust the electoral protocol in the ZEC elections handbook to reposition the country’s voting booths. The proposed changes mean that voters will cast their votes in full view of electoral officials and party agents. This fundamentally undermines the secrecy of the vote and is in contravention of international standards as laid out in all major treaties to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.
The decision to turn the voting booths around so that they may be observed by electoral officials has been justified by ZEC as a necessary measure to discourage voters from taking photographs of their ballots while in the booth. Previously, booths faced the wall to enable voters to cast their ballots without being observed.