The undersigned women’s rights organizations, working on promoting democracy, good governance and the full participation of women, women with disabilities (WWDS) and young women in electoral processes are deeply concerned with the indefinite suspension of by-elections in Zimbabwe. Due to the recent calls from Parliament, local councils, and deaths of representatives in 2020-2021, 26 constituencies and around 80 wards are unrepresented, an affront to the democratic principles of representative democracy as enshrined in the Zimbabwean Constitution.
The constitution is the supreme law of the land and it binds among others, the executive, legislature, and agencies of government. The continued ban on by-elections is an assault on the legislative authority of the people of Zimbabwe (as provided for in section 117) who cannot elect their representatives to parliament. The limitations placed by this ban on the rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution e.g., the right to political participation (section 67) are unfair, unreasonable, and unjustifiable in a democratic society. The spirit and the letter of the constitution is that consent to govern must be derived from the governed through the conduct of elections. Section 159 of the Constitution explicitly requires that by-elections must be held within 90 days after that vacancy occurs. No subsidiary legislation can overturn this explicit constitutional provision that is binding on everyone including both the Executive and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Citizens’ voice and representation in key decision-making platforms such as parliament and council is critical in the fight against COVID-19. Whilst acknowledging the impact of COVID-19, we call for the lift of the indefinite ban on by-elections as it limits citizens’ voice in this context and militates against good governance, constitutionalism, and equal participation of citizens in electoral processes and civic affairs. Women, WWDs and young women are underrepresented in elected leadership positions. Prolonging the ban on by-elections maintains this status quo that has failed to address factors that result in exclusion and lack of effective participation of these marginalized groups in electoral processes.
Crowd-pulling activities such as rallies, political parties’ internal elections and meetings, church gatherings, weddings, funerals, and some sporting activities have resumed. The government has allowed for physical learning to take place in schools, yet elections remain banned. Courts are open, prisons and other places of detention continue to be overcrowded. It is possible to conduct by-elections whilst still following World Health Organization (WHO) regulations that have been incorporated in the ZEC policy on elections during COVID-19.
As the networks of women’s rights organizations, we call upon,
- The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) as an independent commission to uphold its role in ensuring by-elections are held in line with the constitution and in conformity with the World Health Organization protocols and its own policies on holding elections during COVID-19 periods. Lessons learnt from countries that have held elections under COVID-19 conditions in Africa and elsewhere can be applied to improve safety during elections.
- The President and the Cabinet of Zimbabwe, in particular the Minister of Health and Child Care must respect the Constitution, regional and international instruments that promote democracy and good governance and to do everything in their power to ensure all the outstanding by-elections are held in a safe, peaceful, and transparent manner.
It is our hope that women, WWDs and young women will get a chance to fully participate and help in redressing historical, structural and hierarchical hindrances to the achievement of equality and inclusion in Zimbabwe.
Organizations signing up to the statement:
- Economic Justice for Women Project (EJWP)
- Women of Africa (WOA)
- Female Student Network Trust (FSNT)
- Institute for Young Women’s Development (IYWD)
- Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU)
- Action for Women in Development and Enterprise (Act4Women)
- Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT)
- Women’s Academy For Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE)
- Self Help Development Foundation (SHDF)
- Women’s Institute For Leadership Development (WILD)
- Girls and Women Empowerment Network Trust (GWEN)
- The Girls Table
- Female Prisoners Support Trust (FEMPRIST)
- Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA)
- Sprout Women Empowerment Trust (SWET)
- Women Trust Africa (WTA)
- Imba Mukadzi Umuzi Ngumama Trust (IMUNT)