On 26 April 2022, the House of Lords is scheduled to consider the following question for short debate:
Lord Oates (Liberal Democrat) to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of reports of (1) state sanctioned political violence, (2) voter roll irregularities, and (3) the intimidation of voters, ahead of the 26 March parliamentary and local by-elections in Zimbabwe.
In November 2017 Robert Mugabe, who had been President of Zimbabwe for 37 years, resigned. He was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa from the same Zanu-PF political party.
The first national elections after the departure of Mr Mugabe were held in July 2018. Mr Mnangagwa won the presidency, though the result was disputed by the opposition candidate, Nelson Chamisa, and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance party. Zanu-PF also won a majority in the country’s national assembly, with 145 seats to 60 for the MDC Alliance. The opposition also rejected this result.
The run-up to the 2018 election was considered by external observers to be “generally peaceful and orderly”. However, the EU’s observer mission found that “state resources were misused in favour of the incumbent and coverage by state media was heavily biased in favour of the ruling party”. In addition, it said that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission “lacked full independence and appeared to not always act in an impartial manner”.
There were also incidents of violence following the poll. The military and police used force against opposition supporters who were demonstrating against the ruling Zanu-PF party, saying it had rigged the election. Six people died in the clashes and more were injured. A commission set up by Mr Mnangagwa to investigate the incident found that the army and police were responsible for the deaths and that the army had acted disproportionately when it fired on protestors. It also said that the opposition MDC Alliance had enflamed tensions through the speeches of some of its leaders.
The EU’s observer mission found that the state’s actions in the post-election period undermined the integrity of the elections. The mission stated:
[…] the restrictions on political freedoms, the excessive use of force by security forces and abuses of human rights in the post-election period undermined the corresponding positive aspects during the pre-election campaign. As such, many aspects of the 2018 elections in Zimbabwe failed to meet international standards.
A high court challenge to the election result, lodged by the MDC Alliance, was unsuccessful.
Why were the March 2022 elections called?
The March 2022 elections encompassed many by-elections which had arisen over the preceding two years. These by-elections were delayed because of Covid-19. Approximately 10 percent of parliamentary seats were up for election.
Numerous vacant seats had arisen because disagreements within the MDC Alliance party had led to many of its members being expelled from the party. Under the Zimbabwean constitution, if a member of the national assembly or local government changes party or is expelled from their party, a by-election must be held. Disagreements between different groups in the MDC Alliance led to Mr Chamisa, who led the party at the 2018 elections, and many of his allies being expelled from the group. Therefore, many of the seats which were up for election in March 2022 had previously been held by the opposition.
In January 2022, Mr Chamisa founded a new party, Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), which contested many of the seats in the March 2022 elections.
What happened in the run-up to the elections?
In the days before the elections, the CCC said that its rallies had been banned by police, its meetings had been disrupted and more than 37 of its supporters had been arrested. It was reported that on 27 February 2022 a CCC rally was attacked by a “gang”. One person died and 22 others were known to be wounded. Amnesty International said the assault appeared to be “a pre-meditated attack” that aimed to “intimidate political opposition and block access to their constituents” ahead of the by-elections. Amnesty International said that the Zimbabwean government had “incited” such violence. The ruling party denied involvement in the attack.
The CCC and Team Pachedu, a Zimbabwean pressure group, also highlighted what they said were irregularities in the electoral roll. Team Pachedu said that the names of at least 165,000 people had been moved to different wards and constituencies without notice, leading to confusion and the prospect of some people having to travel long distances to vote. In addition, Team Pachedu accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission of accepting voters with unknown addresses, which would be against the law. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission defended itself against the allegations, saying they were intended to smear the organisation. It also said that a leaked copy of the voter roll used for Team Pachedu’s analysis was not an official and accurate copy.
What happened on election day?
There were no reports of significant unrest on polling day.
The CCC won the majority of the parliamentary seats that were contested, winning 19 out of 28 seats. Zanu-PF won the remaining nine seats. Zanu-PF retained control of the National Assembly.
At the time of writing, the results of the local elections had not been announced.
What is the UK Government’s policy on Zimbabwe?
The Government has said that it is concerned by the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and has urged the Government of Zimbabwe to respect the rule of law. On 22 February 2022, Lord Jones of Cheltenham (Liberal Democrat) asked the Government about accusations of intimidation and voter irregularities ahead of the elections. Minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Lord Goldsmith replied:
The UK remains concerned by the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. This includes a lack of accountability for human rights violations, including those responsible for the death of protestors in August 2018 and January 2019, at the hands of the security forces. We are also aware of recent reports of police brutality and efforts to frustrate the opposition’s right to free assembly. While the UK welcomes steps to legislate for an independent complaints commission, the test will be its ability to act independently and effectively.
We have been clear that we want to see the Government of Zimbabwe meet its international and domestic obligations by respecting the rule of law and safeguarding human rights. The Minister for Africa emphasised these messages when she spoke to President Mnangagwa on 1 November 2021 at COP26 and our ambassador in Harare continues to raise concerns about human rights in her meetings with senior government ministers and officials. Alongside significant development assistance to help ordinary Zimbabweans, we continue to support civil society organisations focused on human rights.
The UK has sanctions in place concerning Zimbabwe. These consist of an arms embargo, an asset freeze on one entity, and an asset freeze and travel bans applied to four individuals. The Government has stated that the purpose of the sanctions is to encourage the Government of Zimbabwe, and any person or entity who may be involved in human rights abuses, to:
- respect democratic principles and institutions and the rule of law;
- refrain from actions, policies or activities which repress civil society in Zimbabwe; and
- comply with international human rights law and respect human rights.
Before the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU), the UK was part of the EU sanctions regime. The Government states that the UK’s current sanctions are “substantially the same” as relevant EU legislation. The EU first applied sanctions to Zimbabwe in 2002 because of “serious human rights violations” ahead of elections. While the EU decided to suspend the majority of sanctions against individuals when a new constitution was introduced in 2013, it maintains an arms embargo and certain asset freezes and travel bans.
The Government has said that while it supports development projects in the country, it does not send any bilateral aid to the Government of Zimbabwe. In response to a parliamentary question, then Minister at the then Department for International Development Harriet Baldwin said:
The UK Government does not channel any UK bilateral aid through the Government of Zimbabwe. The UK, through the Department for International Development in Zimbabwe, provides extensive financial and technical assistance to a wide range of civil society organisations in Zimbabwe. We do not publicise our partners to avoid putting them at risk. Our funding supports Zimbabwean citizens to hold the state to account in its respect for human rights and democratic principles.
- House of Commons International Development Committee, Oral Evidence: DFID’s Work in Zimbabwe, HC 1878, 5 February 2019
- Oral Question on ‘Zimbabwe’, HL Hansard, 8 March 2022, cols 1256–60
- House of Commons Library, ‘Zimbabwe: The Mnangagwa regime’, 15 February 2019
- House of Commons Library, Situation in Zimbabwe, 24 January 2019