IFES supports citizens’ right to participate in free and fair elections.
Our independent expertise strengthens electoral systems and builds
local capacity to promote sustainable democracy.

Addressing Election Disputes and
Election Offenses in Zimbabwe
Challenges around an election
should not necessarily be perceived
as weakness in the system, but
as evidence of the strength and
openness of the political system.1 The
International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR) requires that
any person whose right to vote and
be elected has been violated must
have an effective remedy.2 Because
elections are a process, complaints and
violations can occur throughout the
electoral cycle (as illustrated in Figure
1 below), and the effective resolution
of these complaints is integral to the
integrity and legitimacy of an election.
According to international standards,3
if the rules governing the resolution
of election complaints are unclear or
do not provide for effective remedies,4
or if arbiters are not independent
and impartial,5 the adjudication
process can destabilize governments,
undermine public trust and engender
violence.6

terms of specialist expertise and
timely adjudication of complaints, and
the special procedures put in place
for offenses of politically motivated
violence and intimidation led to more
effective referrals for these offenses
during the 2018 election process.
However, in 2018 international
observers also noted, “The overall…
handling of election disputes highlights
that the right to an effective legal
remedy is not adequately provided
for,”7 which suggests room for further
improvements. Several parts of the
electoral process in Zimbabwe also
lack a clear complaints and appeals
mechanism under the law, including
the delimitation of constituencies,
political party registration and the
polling and counting process.8 The
legal framework needs a clear right
of appeal for all parts of the electoral
process.9

In Zimbabwe, jurisdiction for the
resolution of election disputes and
the prosecution of election offenses is
shared among several institutions, with
the judiciary playing a primary role.
The establishment of a permanent
Electoral Court is a positive step in
1 Denis Petit, 2000, Resolving Election Disputes
in the OSCE Area: Towards a Standard Election
Dispute Monitoring System, OSCE/ODIHR, page 5
2 International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR) Article 2(3)	
3 International standards for EDR are set out
in Vickery, C. Guidelines for Understanding,
Adjudicating, and Resolving Disputes in Elections,
2011 as follows: (1) a transparent right of redress;
(2) clearly defined election standards and
procedures; (3) An impartial and informed arbiter;
(4) a system that judicially expedites decisions;
(5) established burdens of proof and standards of
evidence; (6) the availability of meaningful and
effective remedies; and (7) effective education of
stakeholders.
4 Steven H. Huefner, Remedying Election Wrongs,
44 Harv. J. on Legis. 265, 288 (2007).	
5 ICCPR, Article 14, § 1. The language used in
the ICCPR can be traced back to Article 10 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.	
6Electoral Justice: The International IDEA
Handbook (2010), p. III, https://www.idea.int/
sites/default/files/publications/electoral-justicehandbook.pdf

Role of the Zimbabwe
Election Commission
in Election Dispute
Resolution
In Zimbabwe, while the 2013
Constitution gives authority to the
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)
to receive and resolve complaints,10
the Electoral Act does not provide
for a comprehensive administrative
dispute resolution process.11 Rather,
different types of pre- and postelection complaints and violations fall
under the jurisdiction of the courts, as
outlined in the table below. The lack
of a clear administrative process in the
law challenges the ZEC’s constitutional
mandate to resolve disputes and
ensure the integrity of the election,
and as international observers noted
in 2018, “election-related disputes are
resolved only by the judiciary, resulting
in protracted adversarial processes
which...do not always ensure a
timely and effective legal remedy.”12
As observers have recommended,
it is important to institute a ZEC-led
administrative complaints mechanism
that allows for timely and effective
remedies for voters and candidates,
particularly in the pre-election phase,
and for the ZEC to fully embrace
its consitutional election dispute
resolution (EDR) mandate.13

Fig 1: Disputes and violations throughout the
electoral process
7 European Union Election Observation Mission
(EU EOM) Final Report, https://eeas.europa.eu/
sites/eeas/files/eu_eom_zimbabwe_2018_-_final_
report.pdf, page 40
8 A review of the Electoral Act reveals that appeal
provisions for these parts of the process are
missing from the law. See also European Union
Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) Final
Report, https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/eu_
eom_zimbabwe_2018_-_final_report.pdf, page 9
9 The right to an appeal is a key component
in ensuring access to an adequate remedy.
International human rights conventions all
recognize, implicitly or explicitly, the fundamental
value of an appeals mechanism. See ICCPR, Article
14, § 5; American Convention, Article 8(2)(h);
Protocol No. 7 to the European Convention for

the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms, Art. 2, Nov. 22, 1984. The Venice
Commission code of good practice also provides (at
paragraphs 92 and 93) that individual citizens and
candidates should be able to fully challenge any
electoral irregularities, before an election tribunal,
electoral commission or regular court.
10 Constitution of Zimbabwe 2013, Article 239 (k)
11 Section 190 of the Electoral Act does provide
that a person aggrieved by a decision of the ZEC or
its employees may file a complaint and the ZEC can
order “appropriate remedial action.” The law does
not clarify what this action might be.
12 European Union Election Observation Mission
(EU EOM) Final Report, https://eeas.europa.eu/
sites/eeas/files/eu_eom_zimbabwe_2018_-_final_
report.pdf, page 40
13 Ibid.

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