On 30 March 2019, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) conducted a local authority by-election for Cowdray Park (Ward 28) to fill a vacancy that had arisen following the death of the incumbent Councillor, Hapson Ncube, who died in December 2018. Cowdray Park is in Bulawayo Metropolitan Province and is one of the three wards that make up Luveve Constituency, the other 2 wards being Gwabalanda (Ward 16) and Luveve (Ward 15). The ward has a voting population of 23 257 which is one of the largest in the province. Accordingly, ZEC established 36 polling stations for use in this by election.
The Nomination Court for aspiring candidates sat on February 22, 2019 in keeping with Section 125(4)(b) of the Electoral Act [Chapter 2:13] . Feedback from the ZESN observers who closely tracked the Court proceedings indicated that due processes were adhered to in the processing of the submissions by aspiring candidates. Seven (7) of the 18 people who contested this ward by-election did so as independent candidates.
Observer reports indicated that the campaigns were largely peaceful; however, disturbing reports of defacing and tearing of campaign posters were reported by ZESN observers. The most prominent modes of campaigning in use for candidates and political parties were reported to be campaign posters and door to door visit. The ruling party conducted the most visible political campaign and It was also the only party that held a rally in the ward.
At the invitation of the ZEC, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) such as ZESN and a Consortium of CSOs based in the Matabeleland region conducted a number of civic and voter education activities that included distribution of Information Education and Communication (IEC) materials, convening meet the candidate forums, radio talk shows, and public meetings.
The only voter registration center that was open for voter registration was the provincial ZEC offices; this presented a significant financial hurdle for those who intended to register to vote.
Election Day political environment was generally calm and peaceful, in keeping with the political environment that was observed in the pre-election period. On Election Day, reports from ZESN observers indicated that all polling stations in the by election were set up in accordance with laid down procedures and opened on time, with all essential election material being present. However as a departure from what had become the norm, ZEC did not provide height adjusted voting booths to cater for persons with physical handicaps such as wheelchair users and voters of short stature. ZESN observers reported high numbers of voters redirected to other polling stations.
The ZANU PF candidate Kidwell Mujuru was duly elected as the Councillor of Ward 28 of Cowdray Park having garnered 1,899 votes. The seat was previously won by the MDC Alliance during the 2018 harmonized elections. The Alliance fielded two candidates in the by-election who polled a combined tally of 1,450 votes. The other political parties and candidates polled a combined total of 1,002 votes.
Kidwell Mujuru becomes the only Zanu-PF councillor out of 29 councillors in an MDC-Alliance-dominated Bulawayo City Council.
ZESN proffers the following recommendations for consideration by the ZEC and electoral contestants:
- ZEC should provide adequate signage to direct voters to their appropriate polling stations at the various polling centers.
- Copies of the voters roll should be posted outside polling stations to enable voters to identify the specific polling station whose voters’ roll their name will be found.
- ZESN calls upon electoral contestants to ensure comprehensive deployment of election agents in all elections.
- ZESN urges ZEC to ensure that for all elections, polling stations are equipped with voting booths to cater for people with disabilities especially those on wheelchairs and voters of short stature.
- ZEC should enforce the political parties’ code of conduct to deter instances of intimidation and defacing of campaign materials.
- ZEC should develop a communication strategy and improve its engagement with electoral stakeholders.
- In addition to ZEC provincial offices, ZEC should open voter registration centers in the wards or constituencies where by-elections are scheduled, to facilitate continuous voter registration by those who turned 18 years after the 2018 harmonized elections, as well as those who seek to transfer their vote.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)