By Nyashadzashe Ndoro
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has told Vice President Constantino Chiwenga that his decision to ban by-elections was “quarantining of democracy” adding that there is need to strike a balance between ensuring the health and safety of all stakeholders and upholding the law.
On Friday last week, the government banned planned 5 December by-elections citing the threat of Covid-19.
But ZESN has expressed concern over the ban of elections given that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had consulted with stakeholders both in the health sector and on ground and found that it was possible for elections to be held this year.
“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,” ZESN said.
ZESN added that, “while the special policy has been enacted in response to containing the pandemic” it had 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 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.
“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.”
Observers have since blamed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government of weaponising Covid-19 to make sure that MDC Alliance does not participate in the by elections and retain seats vacated by recalled legislators. Nehanda Radio