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ZESN urges VP Chiwenga to rethink suspension of by-elections

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  • ZESN also 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.

By Mutsa Makuvaza

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a leading elections watchdog, has expressed concern over the indefinite suspension of by-elections by the Minister of Health and Child Care Constantino Chiwenga who is also the Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Chiwenga in a decree last week said the move to suspend by-elections was taken as a health emergency in light of the fact that COVID-19 cases are still being recorded in the country and that President Emmerson Mnangagwa is yet to lift the national lockdown.

But ZESN pleads with Chiwenga, a former army general, to rethink his decision which ZESN says 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,” ZESN says in a press release this Sunday which the Zimbabwe Voice is in possession of.

“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, ” reads the Amendment.

“ZESN is of the view that, while the special policy has been enacted in response to containing the pandemic, ZESN reiterates its concerns on 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 also 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.

“… 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,” ZESN argues.

It cites a number of countries have so far held electoral activities amid COVID-19.

“… Malawi general elections (were held) only recently. Tanzania is set to hold elections on 28 October, the USA and South Africa are on course to conducting general and municipal elections in November 2020.

“There is 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,” ZESN concludes.

Dozens of seats at local ward as well as constituency level are vacant following the many recalls of elected officials of the MDC Alliance by a rival camp led by Thokozani Khupe of the MDC-T.

ZEC had previously said it expected to fill all the vacant seats by 5th December this year and required US$18 million to do so. The move by the Health Ministry has since placed ZEC in a place of bother. – Zimbabwe Voice

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