Joint Civic Society Organization’s statement on the Suspension of By- Elections

We, the undersigned Civic Society Organizations, working on democracy and human rights, guided by the Constitution that allows all citizens to participate freely in politics, express our concern over the recent developments in Zimbabwe that pose a threat to such participation. Of note, is the recent suspension of by-elections through Statutory Instrument 225A of 2020. This constitutes a blanket ban on by-elections in Zimbabwe. We demand that, by-elections in Zimbabwe be guided by the Constitution and call for the upholding of the Rule of law.

The suspension of by-elections, by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, come after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had undertaken a consultative process to develop COVID-19 Guidelines for the conduct of by-elections in the country. The Ministry of Health and Child Care, has provided guidance on the resumption of a wide-array of socio-economic processes and activities, including but not limited to; the reopening of land and air borders, the resumption of the education sector, the expansion of food markets, and the extension of retailers and industry operating hours. The blanket ban of by-elections accordingly appears to be unique limitation on electoral activities.

Citizens should be allowed to express themselves politically, without restraint or compulsion, from anyone or any political party. Political participation is one of the cornerstones of a constitutional democracy and which facilitates discussion on politics, running for office and electing candidates of one’s choice into political positions in Parliament or the Presidium.

It means to do so freely according to one’s preference. Section 67(1) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that; every Zimbabwean citizen has the right:
(a) To free, fair and regular elections for such elective public office established in terms of the Constitution or any other law
(b)To make political choices freely

As civic society organizations, we reiterate our position, that the electoral process must remain guided by the Constitution and adhere to all full tenets of democracy enshrined in it that include, the right to vote for a candidate of their choice into Parliament and Local Government. Communities in Zimbabwe are constitutionally represented, in key national platforms and processes, by their elected representatives in Parliament and Local Government. Therefore, the ban on by-elections effectively erodes the right to representative democracy for 35 parliamentary communities and 55 wards, unacceptably.

We do not condone actions that seek to undercut constitutional principles on freedom of expression, good electoral processes and that quarantine democracy by removing procedures that are critical components in the meaningful democratic participation of citizens in the election of Members of Parliament and Councilors in Local Government. The same constitution, allows citizens to either support or challenge policies of Government peacefully. Peaceful challenges and or public criticism of Government policies that are inconsistent with the Constitution by anyone acting alone or in a group are constitutionally protected rights.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, is constitutionally charged, to be an independent institution supporting democracy, accordingly, in our view, the Ministry of Health and Child Care has overreached and has unduly limited fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution.

We believe, that the suspension of by-elections should have been a result of transparent multi-stakeholder consultations inclusive of voices from citizens, parliament, political parties, the academia, civil society, the private sector, trade unions, youths and Persons with Disabilities to ensure the fostering of trust in electoral processes so as not to further curtail the upholding of democracy in Zimbabwe.

In the context of the pandemic, multitudes of African countries conducting or intending to conduct COVID-19 compliant presidential elections, particularly, within the region, Malawi, Zambia, South Africa and further Guinea, Cameroon, Mali, Benin, Burundi and Ghana that conducted Biometric Registration of 15 million voters in May. Yet, Zimbabwe, whose COVID-19 case-load is not in any way unique on the African continent proceeds to ban by-elections indefinitely, which appears not to be driven by any COVID-19 science.

We implore the Government of Zimbabwe, to create inclusive multi-stakeholder spaces, for ongoing dialogue and collaboration, which will lead to the holding of COVID-19 compliant by-elections, to enable citizens to peacefully exercise their constitutionally enshrined political rights. Government should desist from enacting statutory instruments that undermine the spirit and letter of the Constitution. Dialogue and collaboration should be multifaceted. Engagement mechanisms must be institutionalized for the provision of long-term input from non-state actors.

We urge the people of Zimbabwe, to remain peaceful in the exercise of their civil and political rights, provided in the Constitution. We reiterate, our position, that there is need to strike a balance between national health emergency responses and the respecting the supreme law of the land. The suspension of by-elections closes up what is left of the shrinking democratic space and undermines the civil and political entitlements of citizens.

Endorsed by: Election Resource Centre (ERC), Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WcOZ), Female Prisoners Support Trust (FEMPRIST), Girls and Women Empowerment Network (GWEN), Habakkuk Trust, Imba Mukadzi Umuzi Ngumama Trust (IMUNT), Marondera Residents Open Forum (MAROF), Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), National Association of Youth Organizations (NAYO), Wedza Residents Development Initiative Trust (WERDIT), Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU), Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE), Women’s Coalition in Zimbabwe, Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD), Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT), Zimbabwe Civil Education Trust (ZIMCET), Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), Zimbabwe Empowerment for Development (ZIMED), Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA), Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU)