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Zimbabwe's Critical Moment

Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) officials count special votes in Harare, July 19, 2013

Early voting took place in Zimbabwe last week, setting the stage for presidential, parliamentary and local elections July 31.

Early voting took place in Zimbabwe last week, setting the stage for presidential, parliamentary and local elections July 31 in the Southern African nation despite calls that the balloting be postponed to ensure an orderly and credible vote.

Zimbabwe's Critical Moment
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Police officers and soldiers who will be on duty on Election Day went to special polling places July 14 and 15, reportedly in large numbers. Although electoral officials worked feverishly to overcome problems caused by late delivery of ballots, the process did not go smoothly. Many logistical problems were encountered, including late or complete lack of delivery of paper ballots to some polling stations. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission reported that a substantial number of members of the disciplined forces and electoral officers were unable to cast votes because their papers did not reach their special voting centers in time or at all. Opposition leaders and civil society members worried that junior officers and those in the ranks were under duress to rally behind President Robert Mugabe.

The reports of polling-place confusion and missing ballots fit with the overall pattern of an election process that so far has been underfunded and plagued by irregularities in voter registration, serious questions about the condition of the voters’ roll and deficiencies in other procedures. The United States is deeply concerned that the elections are moving ahead in the absence of security sector, media and other reforms that the Zimbabwean government and the Southern African Development Community, SADC, agreed to in the Global Political Agreement and SADC Electoral Road Map. We call on the government, SADC and the African Union to accept nothing short of accepted international standards of electoral credibility, fairness and transparency.

This is a critical moment for the people of Zimbabwe. Progress has been made since the GPA [Global Political Agreement] was signed in 2008. The nation’s economy is recovering from mismanagement and the resulting hyperinflation. A new constitution to bolster democratic rule was peacefully approved in March. Now, the Zimbabwean people deserve to choose their leaders in peaceful elections that reflect their will, are widely judged to be credible, and are free of the intimidation or retribution seen in the disputed 2008 vote.