We, the undersigned youth driven organisations under the banner of the Youth Coalition note the press statement that was issued by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) on Tuesday 23 March 2021. In the statement the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) announced the resumption of some of the suspended electoral activities following the relaxation of the Covid-19 lockdown measures of Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021 on 01 March 2021 but did not lift the ban on by-elections. As youth driven organisations we are deeply disturbed and concerned with the continued suspension of the by-elections.
In the statement, (ZEC) Chief Elections Officer Mr Utloile Silaigwana said the resumption of these suspended activities will come into effect on April 1 and part of the statement reads, “ZEC, would like to announce that following the relaxation of lockdown measures of Statutory Instrument 10 of 2021 on 1 March, the commission will lift the suspension of voter registration and some field work it announced on 8 January. The resumption of these suspended activities will come into effect on 1 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 are still in force, the conduct of by-elections remains suspended. This position will be reviewed in due course and stakeholders will be advised accordingly”.
We appreciate and acknowledge the importance of health and safety of all participants in the electoral process and the need for restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the urgency of the health response should not be used as a pretext to unreasonably limit and suppress other political, democratic rights and fundamental freedoms of Zimbabweans.
Businesses, universities, schools, and other sectors were opened; therefore, the urgency of the health response should not be used as a ploy to unreasonably continue to suspend the by-elections and suppress the right of citizens to representation in the legislature and local authorities.
ZEC must draw lessons on how other countries in the Southern Africa region and African continent such as South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, and Nigeria have conducted and administered local authority elections, by-elections, and general elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ZEC must respect and uphold representative democracy by committing and abiding to Sections 158 (3) and 121 (a) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which provides for the filling of vacancies in Parliament and local authorities through by-elections held within 90 days after the vacancy has arisen.
We acknowledge that a careful balance is needed between taking steps to protect the health and safety of citizens and safeguarding the inalienable democratic rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens in shaping the societies in which they live in.
We, therefore, call on ZEC :
- To engage and consult with all electoral stakeholders including political parties, candidates, and civil society to achieve political and administrative consensus on how to deliver free and fair elections within the context of COVID-19 pandemic and on how to ensure compliance to the regulations and procedures set within the context of a pandemic.
- To immediately lift the suspension on by-elections and come up with an operational plan to manage and deliver genuine free and fair election processes under strict COVID-19 protocols and following the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. The immediate holding of the by-elections will also present ZEC and stakeholders an opportunity to mend, perfect and correct the gaps and consider the recommendations that were noted and raised by both local and international election observers after the 2018 harmonised elections in preparation for the 2023 harmonised elections.
- Zimbabwe National Students Union
- Youth Initiatives for Community Development
- Youth Alliance for Democracy
- African Youth Portal
- Youth Forum Zimbabwe
- Lupane Youth for Development Trust
- Mutasa Youth Forum Trust
- Community Youth Development Trust
- Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust
- Young Advocates for Inclusion Network
- Light Bearers Youth Initiative Trust
Source: Youth Coalition