By Blessed Mhlanga | NewsDay |
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) deputy chairperson Emmanuel Magade yesterday failed to give a specific date when by-elections would be held, raising speculation that they may not take place any time soon.
Addressing journalists in Chinhoyi yesterday, Magade pointed out that a total of 117 parliamentary and council seats were vacant.
The need for the country to hold by-elections arose in February last year when the MDC-T led by Douglas Mwonzora recalled more than 40 MPs and 80 councillors affiliated to the MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa.
In response to questions from journalists, Magade could not be drawn into giving specific dates as to when the elections would be held, only preferring to say, “as soon as is practicably possible”.
“Let me assure you that as soon as it becomes practically possible, and as soon as it’s safe for us to conduct by-elections, we will do so without further ado,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I am not a soothsayer, I cannot guess that we will do it next month or in two months. I am not being evasive at all, but we are going to do it as soon as it’s practically possible,” he added.
The Zec deputy chairperson said the electoral body was committed to running elections in a non-partisan manner and in a free and transparent way.
“We have always had by-elections as and when they were due. The current situation is what we call in law suri generis, and in other words, it’s a very unusual situation because of the pandemic and because of objective and subjective circumstances obtaining in our country,” he said.
Zec chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana also said they could not predict when polls would be held because they were not health experts, and, therefore, would rely on Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga’s orders.
“As long as the statutory instruments blocking elections remain in place, elections won’t be run,” Silaigwana said.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) has, however, urged Zec to approach government with a roadmap of running polls, adding that the continued failure to hold them was trampling on people’s rights.
“Zec should engage government with options that demonstrate how by-elections can be conducted safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zesn is worried about the continued suspension of by-elections which leave citizens in constituencies where elected leaders such as MPs and councillors were recalled or died without representation,” Zesn said recently in a statement.
Chiwenga in October last year published Statutory Instrument (SI) 225A of 2020, Public Health COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 (No 4), which suspended the holding of by-elections which were then slated for December 5, 2020.
But constitutional experts said the move by Chiwenga was unconstitutional as Zec had no powers to suspend by-elections by administrative decree, adding that he also did not have powers to suspend them through regulations under the Public Health Act.
“The Constitution overrides administrative decisions and regulations. The Constitution must be obeyed,” legal think-tank Veritas said in its report critiquing the decree by Chiwenga.
Some countries that successfully held their elections during the COVID-19 era included Malawi, the United States and Uganda among others.