Member States of SADC uphold democratic principles as enshrined in the Treaty establishing the regional bloc, hold free and fair elections and this is done through the various instruments at their disposal, SADC Executive Secretary, Her Excellency, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, has said.
In an interview with Dr Shaka Ssali on Voice of America’s, Straight Talk Africa, recently, Dr Tax explained the secret behind the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible elections in the SADC region.
“The secret first is that we uphold democratic principles, that is part of our principles as enshrined in the Treaty. But people sometimes do underestimate the importance of the SADC Electoral Observation Missions. There is that perception out there that we just go there, it’s like a formality. That is no true at all, the observations have added value to the democratic and governance system which you see in our region. Our observation is done in three phases. The first phase, you go there three, four, five months before. What you do is you assess the preparedness of that country to go to elections with a view of establishing whether the elections will be credible,” said Dr Tax.
“We assess the security situation, legislation, the law governing elections and also the political environment, and based on that, should there be any issues, we immediately communicate with our Member State to say these are the issues which we fell you should look into before elections. During elections we will assess the processes, but thereafter again we will assess post-election and provide a report. When we go, before the next round of elections we always start by assessing ‘did you improve on areas which were recommended for improvement?’ And Member States know we are very serious with that. They take the report seriously and rectify before the next round of elections, so that has helped a lot.”
Dr Tax spoke as two SADC Member States, the Seychelles and the United Republic of Tanzania, are preparing to go for general elections in October this year. The Seychelles will hold its presidential and legislative elections on 22-24 October. As is the case with all elections in Seychelles, voters in the so-called “outer islands” will vote on the first day, followed by the “inner islands” of Mahe, Grand’ Anse and La Digue, which are home to more than 90 percent of the Seychellois population.
Tanzania will hold presidential, legislative and local government elections on 28 October. The last elections in the country were held in October 2015.
Dr Tax dismissed the notion put across by Dr Ssali that Zimbabwe was an “elephant in the room” when it comes to the holding of democratic elections in Zimbabwe.
“I have heard a lot about Zimbabwe but the unfortunate part is that, now we have social media, people tend to listen to one part without listening to both parties analyzing and saying, okay indeed there is a challenge here in terms of democracy. Zimbabwe has had elections, throughout, democratic elections, and even the last change of administration was done democratically. It wasn’t that the former President (Robert Mugabe) was forced out. That was agreed and he stepped down, so I don’t understand when you say there is no democracy in Zimbabwe. Maybe if I may be enlightened, what do you mean that there is an elephant in the room which is Zimbabwe? For us democratic principles have been upheld by all members, not only Zimbabwe,” Dr Tax said.
Dr Ssali said he had covered the last elections in Zimbabwe in 2018 and that there were a lot of complaints that the political playing field was not level, that the ruling party, ZANU-PF, dominated the media, had all the money, and was competing with people “whose hands and legs were tied behind their backs”.
However, Dr Tax said SADC election observers did assessments in Zimbabwe and interacted with other stakeholders like civil society, diplomatic missions and other organizations and had a different story altogether.
SADC had investigated in order to get a clear and balanced picture about elections in Zimbabwe and found the allegations to be false.
Elections are an important part of consolidating democracy and good governance in the region. Elections in the SADC Member States are held pursuant to Article 4.1 of the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections (2015) whereby Member States holding elections invite SEOMs to observe their elections, based on the provisions of the SADC Treaty, Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
The Chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation constitutes SEOM comprising observers selected by SADC Member States. The SADC Electoral Advisory Council (SEAC), which is a technical structure that advises SADC on all matters pertaining to electoral processes and the enhancement of democracy and good governance in the SADC region, provides advisory services to the SEOM and the Organ Troika.
During the pre-election period, thus before SEOM is constituted, SEAC undertakes Goodwill Missions to among others, reflect on possible challenges in respective countries on matters pertaining to electoral processes, and renders advice to the Ministerial Committee of the Organ (MCO) before, during and after elections. In the post-election period, SEAC undertakes post-election reviews, which is of particular relevance to an identified challenge.
The Chairperson of the Organ also appoints the Head of SEOM who, through engagement and consultations with stakeholders, ensures that the SEOM meets its objective of improving electoral integrity, mitigate electoral conflict, enhance public confidence and promote citizen participation in the electoral process.
Among other key activities, SEOMs undertake a number of responsibilities which include, but not limited to, consultations with key political and electoral stakeholders, training of observers to help them understand the legal, political and security context and orient observers on the electoral Code of Conduct and observe the polling day proceedings.
According to the SADC practice, normally, two days after polling, the Head of SEOM issues a public Preliminary Statement covering the Mission’s observations of the pre-election and voting processes. The Statement is followed by the SEOM report which is submitted 30 days to relevant stakeholders after the end of the electoral cycle.