By Nyasha Ndoro
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has expressed concern over the indefinite ban of by-elections by Vice President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga.
ZESN argued that the decision was undermining democracy given that consultations had established that it was possible for elections to be held but in respect of Covid-19 regulations.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government on Friday, though a Statutory Instrument 225A of 2020, controversially suspended this year’s by-elections citing the Covid-19 threat.
“The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) expresses concern over the indefinite suspension of by-elections by the Minister of Health and Child Care who is also the Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe. The move taken as a health emergency COVID-19 response undercuts Constitutional principles on freedom of expression, good electoral practice and curtails the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and Parliamentary oversight.
“In terms of Section 68 Chapter 15:17 of the Public Health Act, government enacted Statutory Instrument 225A of 2020 (SI 2020-225A) which will be cited as Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020, No 4). The S.I suspended by-elections that had been pencilled to be held on 5 December 2020.
The Amendment says “Pursuant to subsection (2), the holding of any by-election to fill in a casual vacancy in Parliament or in a local authority, is for the duration of the period of the declaration of the COVID-19 as a formidable epidemic disease, suspended, and if such vacancy occurred while such a declaration is in force, no part of the period from the date of such vacancy to the date of the end of declaration shall be counted for the purposes of section 158 (3) of the Constitution.”
ZESN noted that while the special policy has been enacted in response to containing the pandemic,” the seemingly quarantining of democracy as it is not clear when the restrictions will be lifted and more so given that no one knows how long the pandemic will last.
“ZESN notes that the amendment to suspend by-elections comes a few weeks after the ZEC, in consultation with the Health Ministry recently published a COVID-19 policy on elections, paving way to the conduct of by-elections in the context of the COVID-19. Subsequently last month, ZEC further announced when by-elections would be held to fill in over 30 vacant seats either due to party recalls or other reasons such as death in the COVID-19 era.
“What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Parliament conducted public hearings on Constitutional Amendment Bill No.2 at the height of the pandemic, citizens queue on a daily basis for basic commodities, cash outs at banks and money agents, social welfare and food aid from government, foundations, NGOs and churches, among other organizations are providing aid whilst observing safety measures. The government has also relaxed the lockdown measures.
“Furthermore, a number of countries have so far held electoral activities amid COVID-19, with Malawi conducting general elections general elections only recently. Tanzania is set to hold elections on 28 October, the USA and South Africa are on course to conduct general and municipal elections in November 2020,” ZESN said.
The election observers added that there is a need to strike a balance between ensuring the health and safety of all stakeholders and upholding the law.
“ZESN recommends more dialogue between ZEC and electoral stakeholders on alternative methods of conducting elections that will ensure the health and safety for all involved.”
The decision did not go well with political commentators who argued that it was meant to cripple the MDC Alliance from returning recalled seats by the MDC-T faction.
Political commentator Dr Pedzisai Ruhanya said the decision to ban by-elections was orchestrated by former Army Commander Chiwenga in order not to give recalled Nelson Chamisa MPs a chance to reclaim their seats.
Ruhanya added that the decision was not only a resemblance of a “Banana Republic” but a “blind fascist militarised dictatorship.”