So did President Robert Mugabe win a sweeping victory in a largely free and fair election, as the African Union would have us believe?

Or was it seriously compromised, as the 7,000 local monitors of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network suggest?

 Just compare the two statements. For the African Union:
  • “Zimbabweans went to the polls with enthusiasm and in large numbers to elect their President, Parliamentarians and Local Authorities. The voting and counting processes took place in a peaceful and tranquil environment. Most of the polling stations observed by the AUEOM opened on time and were generally fully staffed, with all the required materials, and adequately secured by the Zimbabwe Republican Police [ZRP].
  • The poll followed a generally peaceful campaign period for which the Mission commends Zimbabwean citizens and political parties who consistently conveyed messages of peace and non-violence to their supporters and the public at large.
  • The voting was carried out in an atmosphere devoid of violence, harassment and disturbances.”
Yes there were problems, the AU suggests: “The Mission notes with great concern the high incidence of voters who were turned away at polling stations.”
And: “The late publication of the final list of polling stations, barely 48 hours to the opening of polls, may have contributed significantly to the high number of voters who were turned away for being at the wrong polling stations and/or redirected to other polling stations or referred to the Command Centre.”
But overall, the process was fine.
The head of the AU mission, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo dismissed complaints of fraud, saying the election was fair and free “from the campaigning point of view”.
This impression was reinforced by the southern African (SADC) monitors, who concluded that: the elections were “free and peaceful” even if it was too early to call them fair.
Compare this assessment with that of the Zimbabwe local monitors.
  • “The credibility of the 2013 Harmonised Elections is seriously compromised by a systematic effort to disenfranchise an estimated million voters.
  • Before Election Day the voter registration process was systematically biased against urban voters.
  • The voters’ roll of 19 June as provided by the Office of the Registrar General clearly showed that urban voters had systematically been denied the opportunity to register to vote. A total of 99.97% of rural voters were registered while only 67.94% of urban voters were registered.
  • On Election Day urban voters were further systematically disenfranchised. At 82% of urban polling stations many potential voters were turned away andnot permitted to vote for reasons which include names not appearing on the voters’ roll and turning up at the wrong ward for voting. This isin sharp contrast to rural areas where only 38% ofpolling stations turned away many potential voters.”

Since Zanu-PF has its largest support in the rural areas and the opposition MDC is strongest in the towns, the pattern is clear.

Conclusion

Perhaps the time has come to stop taking African Union and SADC monitors seriously.

We should not giving them a credibility they do not deserve. Local and international observer missions frequently have much tougher assessments of the credibility of elections. While the AU and SADC seem to arrive with just one stamp in their luggage – the one marked ‘Free and Fair.’