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AD177: Popular trust in national electoral commission a question mark as Zimbabwe enters new era

Stephen Ndoma 4 Dec 2017 Zimbabwe
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Key findings
  • Half (50%) of respondents say they trust the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission “somewhat” or “lot,” continuing an upward trend over the past decade. Four in 10 (41%) say they trust the commission “just a little” or “not at all.”
  • Trust in the ZEC is particularly low among better-educated Zimbabweans, urban residents, opposition supporters, and residents of Bulawayo and Manicaland provinces.
  • Compared to other Zimbabwean institutions and other electoral commissions in Southern Africa, the ZEC ranks poorly in terms of popular trust.
  • Only one-fifth (22%) of Zimbabweans believe that votes in elections are “always” counted fairly, while another 17% say they are “often” counted fairly. But a majority say the ZEC only “sometimes” (33%) or “never” (20%) oversees a fair vote count. Again, skepticism about fair vote counting is especially high among better-educated respondents, urbanites, opposition supporters, and residents of Bulawayo metropolitan province.
  • The proportion of citizens who see their national elections as generally free and fair has fluctuated over the years, but has never exceeded 58% of the population. Fewer than half (48%) of Zimbabweans hold this positive view of the 2013 elections.

As Zimbabwe moves into a new era following its dramatic change in leadership, all eyes will be on the 2018 elections as a referendum on the people’s will and a test of progress toward freedom and fairness in its democratic practices. A central player will be the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which is charged with preparing, conducting, and supervising all national and local elections.

While managing three parliamentary and two presidential elections since taking over from the Electoral Supervisory Commission and Registrar General in 2004, the ZEC, whose members are appointed by the president, has frequently been accused of bias and incompetence (see, for example,, 2013).

Given that public trust in the national electoral commission is “instrumental to the overall credibility of elections and to democratic legitimacy more broadly” (Roberts, Gordon, & Struwig, 2016), how do Zimbabweans perceive the ZEC? Afrobarometer survey data collected in early 2017 suggest that popular trust in the ZEC remains feeble despite some improvement. Findings point to better-educated citizens, opposition supporters, and other sub-groups where building trust will require concerted efforts.

Stephen Ndoma

Stephen is the assistant project manager for Southern Africa