President Mnangagwa has by proclamation ordered the holding of a by-election to the fill the vacant Lupane East constituency seat in the National Assembly. The vacancy resulted from the death of the former MP, Mrs Sithembile Gumbo [ZANU-PF], on 5th April 2019. The President’s proclamation was gazetted on 31st May in Statutory Instrument 123/2019 and obvious slips in the specification of the nomination day and venue of the nomination were corrected a week later by SIs 130 and 131/2019.
Nomination day – Friday 14th June
The nomination court will sit from 10 am on Friday 14th June at the Western Commonage Magistrates Court, Mpopoma, Bulawayo [“Wednesday” in paragraph (b), line 1, of SI 123 is obvious nonsense and will be corrected].
Polling day – Saturday 3rd August
If polling becomes necessary – i.e., if two or more candidates are declared duly nominated on 14th June – it will take place on Saturday 3rd August.
The Constitution requires that all by-elections be held within 90 days of the vacancy occurring [section 158(3)]. This provision has not been complied with in this case – the polling day fixed for the by-election is over a month after the 90-day deadline.
Under section 39 of the Electoral Act (1) the Speaker is required to notify a vacancy in the National Assembly to the President promptly, and (2) the President’s proclamation must be gazetted within 14 days of receipt of the notification in the President’s Office. In the present case a process that should have taken not more than three weeks has taken seven weeks.
The Voters Roll for the By-Election
According to the Electoral Act the voters roll for the by-election will include all those who were on the roll for last year’s 30th July elections plus anyone registered since then plus any qualified persons whose claims for registration were lodged with a voter registration officer on or before close of business on Friday 31st May [section 26A of the Electoral Act] or, if one applies section 33(4) of the Interpretation Act, on or before close of business on Monday 3rd June.
Claims for registration lodged after 3rd June will be processed, but will not entitle such claimants to vote in this by-election.
Problems with Previous By-Elections to be Avoided in This One
In its reports on the local authority by-elections held in February and March, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network [ZESN] noted with concern that in all cases a significant number of would-be voters had been turned away for turning up at the wrong polling station; some of them were unable to proceed to the polling stations they were redirected to.
In the Cowdray Park by-election in Bulawayo in March, ZESN attributed the high number of redirected voters to two factors – some voting centres having more than one polling station, and the addition of new polling stations by ZEC.
ZESN accordingly recommended that for future elections ZEC should: ensure that there is adequate signage to direct voters to their appropriate polling stations; post the voters’ roll outside each polling stations to enable voters to check their names first; ensure that voter education covers information on location of polling stations for specific polling areas especially in areas where new polling stations are added.