The European Union is cutting its US$5 million aid support to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) in response to its handling of the August elections.
EU’s withdrawal of support points to an even tougher time for Zimbabwe in its already difficult talks to reach a debt restructuring deal with Western creditors. The Zimbabwe government was looking to EU for support in its quest for a deal on its US$18 billion foreign debt. By withdrawing aid, the EU is signaling a hardening of sentiment among creditor nations, which had set a credible election as a key step towards any debt deal.
The EU announced last November that it was giving US$5 million to ZEC to “enhance the institutional and technical capacity”. Just over US$1 million of the package had been used by ZEC. The aid was a sign of a further thawing in relations between Zimbabwe and the EU, which has peeled back its sanctions on the country over the past 20 years and been allowed in to observe elections.
But the EU on Tuesday said criticism by observers of ZEC’s management of the August elections has put its support under scrutiny.
“The recent preliminary statements from multiple EOMs, including the EU EOM, have raised concerns about ZEC’s management of the electoral process, particularly regarding its independence and transparency,” the EU mission in Zimbabwe said in a statement.
“The EU contributes together with other donors to a UNDP-managed project aiming at enhancing ZEC’s institutional and technical capabilities to fulfil its constitutional mandate. In response to these concerns and in adherence to responsible management of EU development cooperation funds, the EU has initiated a procedure to suspend its contribution to this project.”
The EU went on: “The EU firmly underscores the critical importance of electoral management bodies serving as independent and transparent institutions in fulfilling their mandates to deliver credible and inclusive electoral processes that enjoy the trust of citizens. The EU remains open to the possibility of resuming its contribution to support efforts aiming at strengthening the electoral processes and bring such processes closer to the regional and international standards that Zimbabwe has signed.”
The EU observed the election for the second time since it was banned from observing elections in Zimbabwe in 2002. The election, marked by reports of intimidation and ZEC’s delays in delivering ballots to some polling stations, was criticised by many observers, inclusing those from the EU.
In his report, EU Chief Observer Castaldo said: “Ultimately the elections fell short of many regional and international standards, including key principles of equality, universality, transparency and accountability.” The EU observers also complained that they had only limited access to ZEC officials.
A raid on ZESN, the largest observer group whose programmes are also partly funded by EU, also angered EU. ZESN was stopped from running a parallel voter tabulation exercise, which they had been encouraged to do by ZEC chair Priscilla Chiguma. In 2018, ZESN’s sample based survey of results fell in line with ZEC’s own tally.
The 2023 election was most notably criticised by the SADC mission, which said aspects of the poll had fallen short of regional standards.
Ahead of the elections, ZEC also received US$1.44 million worth of aid from Japan, managed by UNDP, to support capacity building of the commission.
ZEC is mostly funded by government. However, earlier this year, ZEC complained about delays by the Ministry of Finance in releasing its budget allocation.
While the EU no longer has general sanctions on Zimbabwe – the only measure left is an arms embargo – the bloc still does not give direct budgetary aid to the government. EU aid, such as the support to ZEC or other institutions, is delivered mostly through UN agencies and not through the government.