On the 25th March 2020, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) suspended activities due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the significant health risk it posed. This was a decision similar to practices across the globe due to the novelty of the epidemic. Circumstances have since changed (even though differing in contexts) with some constituencies moving on to resume activities under lockdown compliant measures, especially social distancing and hygiene management. ZEC announced on the 6th June 2020 that it will resume some activities that don’t violate lockdown regulations. Concerns arise from this proclamation.
First and foremost, stakeholder participation and consultation remain key to democracy and transparent processes for strengthened elections. ZEC does not operate within a vacuum and should hence consult all stakeholders that are affected directly and indirectly by their decisions. The Commission has stated that a guiding Covid-19 Electoral Practice Policy is being developed and will be shared with all stakeholders but the question is whether consultation was carried out in the development of such a document. ERC encourages such activities to be done with adequate consultation as transparency and accountability are the cornerstones to credible electoral processes. This is in accordance with the Constitution and ensures ownership and uptake of resulting actions by the commission.
In the same light, the decisions made by ZEC should be guided by the relevant legislation and the Constitution of the land. Electoral activities that may remain suspended include By- elections which constitutionally cannot be suspended by way of a press statement. ZEC should pursue a Court order to postpone elections and to ensure no misgivings will rise from the action which should be justifiable.
Covid-19 affected many institutions and indeed ZEC is not exempt. However, the pandemic does not change the urgency of implementing reforms. Accordingly, ZEC should invest in actively pursuing longstanding administrative reforms. The future of elections rests in reform, a position already adopted by Government and only awaiting operationalization.
Though ZEC expressed that they will communicate the suspended activities in due time, the inconspicuous statement leaves room for discretionary conduct which is unhealthy for democratic purposes especially those that include political competition. It is with this in mind that the commission is encouraged to increase clarity in informing stakeholders on all activities to be continued and those to remain suspended.
To conclude, ZEC is encouraged to increase their stakeholder engagement for all decisions that hinge on electoral processes. In Covid-19 depressed times, compliance with the Constitution and continuing the pursuit for electoral reforms will address public concern while ensuring more credible and inclusive elections.
Source: Election Resource Centre