The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) is set to conduct 3 local authority by-elections between January and February 2019 with the earliest being held in Chitungwiza Municipality Ward 24 on the 26th January 2019. While these by-elections are in accordance with the law, the ERC notes that the current political environment in the country makes it impossible to hold a credible, free and fair election to the satisfaction of the constitutional and international principles of democracy .
Following recent protests against the increase in the price of fuel, the political environment has been characterized by a clampdown on civic and political activists with freedoms of association, expression and assembly being extensively curtailed throughout the country. To expect citizens to go the polls to freely express their will in the current environment will be far fetched. The ERC stands firmly against the conduct of elections for the sake of it. Elections, be they national, harmonized or by-elections are opportunities for citizens to participate in their governance. The environment in which the right to vote is exercised must be conducive enough for a free expression of will having fully accessed information regarding the election, the candidates and what they offer.
In particular, Chitungwiza, one of the most affected communities as a result of the protests, has witnessed political and civic activists being incarcerated or in hiding raising security concerns of citizens. This community can not surely host the Ward 24 by-elections on the 26th of January 2019 in the absence of assurances of the safety and security of citizens to the extent of will being freely expressed through voting.
Besides the political volatility characterizing the community, the disturbances experienced as a result of the protests have affected voter education and political campaigns. Proceeding with the by-election in such a context would be depriving the citizens of Chitungwiza Ward 24 their right to freely elect a councilor of their choice.
Notwithstanding the political tensions arising from the recent protests, the ZEC is yet to address concerns raised by local and international observers following the July 30 Harmonized elections some of which were purely administrative. Efforts to engage ZEC on some of the administrative issues based on the recent conduct two other by-elections in Mutoko and Chegutu last month have been ignored. Observer recommendations on previous elections appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
In the short term, the ERC strongly recommends the postponing of impending by-elections until a more conducive environment has been established to conduct a credible, free, fair and constitutional election especially in the case of Chitungwiza Ward 24. In the long term, the ERC suggests the parking of all by-elections until all necessary and collectively agreed reforms, administrative and legislative, have been instituted to the full satisfaction of all election stakeholders. The current pursuit of holding elections for the sake of elections should be abandoned.
Source: Election Resource Centre