Citizens in Action Southern Africa (CIASA) the proclamation of by-elections by President Mnangagwa in terms of section 39 (2) of the Electoral Act which are to be held on 26 March 2022 with the nomination court sitting on 26 January 2022. The proclamation is for filling 28 vacancies in the National Assembly which have arisen because of deaths and recalls of representatives of those constituencies and the 105 local authority` seats.
While the gazetting of by-elections date is welcome given the vitality of elections to Zimbabwe’s constitutional democracy, they are a number of concerns which must be raised and addressed by the relevant duty bearers and power holders.
Firstly, the critical issue of outstanding electoral and political reforms remains unattended to which is a serious indictment on Parliament as the law making estate of the State. Various observer missions recommend a number of reforms which are needed to make elections in Zimbabwe free, fair, credible and verifiable. These reforms address key electoral issues such as structure and composition of the management of ZEC, ballot paper design, printing and movement, availability of an auditable voters roll, voter registration and inspection and announcement of results among others. They are also constitutional alignments which are needed in the Electoral Act yet all these have not been done and we are heading for what is a mini general election.
Secondly, there is need to implement the Mothlante Commission report on post-election violence by bringing the culprits to book and compensating victims. Failure to hold those responsible to account will only fuel more future violations by the army and other security arms of the State. In addition, there is need to demilitarize the electoral process as well as ZEC staff by removing all serving members of the military from the Logistics Committee of the Commission.
Thirdly, heavy fortification of ZEC offices across the country by state security services defeats the independence and impartiality of the commission as one of the chapter 12 institutions that supports democracy but also discourages interface between the commission and citizens as state security agents have a history of terrorizing Citizens.
Fourthly, there is need to ensure that the public media space is non-partisan and all voices are afforded space to air out their policies and positions. Currently, only the ruling party is afforded space on all public media platforms while the opposition is given token space and is often a target of hate and inflammatory content.
Further there is need to guarantee the security of persons especially women who are more vulnerable during elections. At the end of 2021 we saw violence break out in areas which the main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, was visiting. The violence resulted in dozens getting injured and one person tragically lost their life in Gutu. This is very worrisome especially when law enforcement authorities refused to take up the case and investigate known suspects who are members of the ruling party.
CIASA also strongly encourages the ZEC to intensify voter registration by rolling out more centers of registration and priority at the moment being given to areas with by-elections. Voter education must be also prioritized and ZEC must evolve its voter education methods to cater for young people and other various interest groups.
Under the circumstances, CIASA welcomes the proclamation of by-elections but notes that outstanding reforms must be urgently implemented so that the process is free, fair, credible and verifiable. CIASA shall also be commencing long-term observation of the election environment across the country and prepare regular updates on the electoral environment.