The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Election Resource Centre (ERC) welcome the announcement by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to resume some electoral processes including elections are indispensable prerequisites for building and nurturing a constitutional democracy in Zimbabwe.
ZESN and ERC are therefore deeply concerned by the decision of ZEC to maintain suspension of by-elections and and call on ZEC to reinstate all elections, and more specifically to prepare to hold outstanding and overdue by-elections in a way that complies with the COVID-19 protocols as has happened in many countries elsewhere in Southern Africa.
Announcing the developments in a Press Release dated Tuesday 23 March 2021, ZEC Chief Elections Officer, Mr Silaigwana, said, “The ZEC would like to announce that following the relaxation of lockdown measures of Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021 on 01 March 2021, the Commission will lift the suspension of voter registration and some field work it announced on 08 January 2021. The resumption of those suspended activities will come into effect on 01 April 2021. However, in view of the danger still posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to uphold some health provisions of Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021 which is still in force, the conduct of by-elections remains suspended. The position will be reviewed in due course and stakeholders will be advised accordingly.”
Whilst acknowledging the risk that the novel coronavirus poses to those involved in elections, ZESN and ERC propound that there was need for ZEC to take cognisance of the time that has lapsed without conducting by-elections for the vacancies that arose in Parliament and Local Authorities due to deaths and recalls. Sections 158 (3) and 121 (a) of the Constitution provide for the filling of vacancies in Parliament and local authorities through by-elections held within 90 days of the vacancies having arisen. It is worrisome to note that citizens continue to find themselves without representation in Parliament and local authorities.
ZEC should avoid creating a public perception that it is nitpicking and choosing which aspects of constitutional and electoral obligations it decides to comply with or disregard under the pretext of complying with COVID-19 regulations.This may negatively impact on public and stakeholders trust and confidence in its independence and impartiality.
The Electoral Commission could proceed with by-elections as is the case with other countries such as South Africa that held local authority elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In the interest of upholding representative democracy in Zimbabwe, ZEC could draw lessons and ensure adherence to its own COVID-19 Policy that it formulated and promulgated in September 2020. It would be difficult to countenance the continued suspension of by-elections, with the attendant effect of the continued suppression of the right of citizens to representation, when schools; universities; businesses; and other sectors have been opened.
As the Commission resumes electoral activities, an invitation should be formally extended to observers to observe all electoral processes including the ongoing voter registration. In this regard, Section 239 (i) of the Constitution provides for the accreditation of observers of elections and referendums to allow for verifiability. ZEC must also ensure adherence to the Electoral Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates and other Stakeholders, and that all stakeholders involved in elections adhere to COVID-19 regulations and the ZEC COVID-19 Policy.
ZESN and ERC implore the Government of Zimbabwe to desist from enacting statutory instruments that undermine the spirit and letter of the Constitution and should thus 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.
ZESN and ERC reiterate that by-elections could be held under strict COVID-19 protocols to protect the health of the people and to safeguard the health of democracy.
Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) and the Election Resource Centre (ERC)