Citizens in Action Southern Africa (CIASA) observed nominations for by-elections across the country and had monitors stationed at the various provincial nomination stations.The nominations were conducted as per the proclamation made under SI 2 of 2022. The organization commends the general peaceful atmosphere which characterized this process as candidates from different political parties and independents filed their papers. Zimbabwe has a sombre history of election related political violence which most recently saw the deployment of the army on August 1, 2018 resulting in the death of seven (7) unarmed citizens in the aftermath of the July 31, 2018 Harmonized Elections. CIASA urges political parties, candidates and supporters to maintain this peaceful environment throughout the election process as it serves as a litmus test for the 2023 Harmonized Elections. Equally, a peaceful electoral environment allows for and encourages participation by potential voters to the benefit of all stakeholders in this by-election and democracy itself.
The by-elections in 28 parliamentary seats and 105 council wards across the country were largely triggered by a wave of recalls because of infighting within the opposition MDC Alliance party. These recalls came at a time when the nation was under a series of lockdowns due to the novel coronavirus which saw the suspension of all election related activities. While COVID-19 containment measures were in the best interest of public health, leaving citizens in constituencies and wards without representation flies in the face of democratic ethos set out in the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
It was against the above background that CIASA commended the proclamation of by-election dates and subsequently raised the critical issue of outstanding electoral reforms. Now that the nomination process is done with, it is an opportunity for Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to show commitment towards implementation of some of the outstanding reforms.
While some major reforms require legislative realignment, other key reforms demand change of conduct and strict enforcement of existing provisions by the electoral body. These reforms include media coverage,party conduct,complaints handling mechanism,women participation in elections and independence of the commission among others which CIASA extensively highlighted in its earlier press release http://eepurl.com/hRRdq1 . Some of these reforms just require basic enforcement for example,public media is mandated to provide balanced coverage of all political contestants as part of its duty to keep citizens informed.In addition,this is already provided for in terms of Section 160 of the Electoral Act hence ZEC must enforce this provision on public media houses like the Zimpapers group and ZBC. CIASA will develop a checklist to produce a by-weekly index tracking how ZEC is responding to electoral reforms requiring basic implementation and enforcement of holding the Commission accountable.
As the nomination court was going on smoothly, it is disconcerting to note how the courts have issued two conflicting judgements related to 6 constituencies from which MDC Alliance legislators were recalled. These are namely Harare East, Hon.Tendai Biti,Kambuzuma,Hon.Willias Madzimure,Mutasa South,Hon.Regai Tsunga,Pumula,Hon.Sichelesile Mahlangu and Nkulumane, Hon. Kucaca Phulu. The first of these rulings was handed down last week and on 25 January 2022 ZEC announced reinstatement of the 6 legislators,effectively removing the seats from the vacant list.Just as the nomination court closed at 1600hrs, a new ruling was passed which declared the seats vacant after a court application by Benjamin Rukanda of PDP,who had initially recalled these legislators.With the nomination court legally closed,the order from the ruling cannot be implemented meaning the seats are once again vacant but have not had any duly nominated candidates to contest on 26 March 2022.
Considering the fact that the judiciary effectively chairs the electoral commission, and its role is to uphold justice for all,this serves as an indictment on the conduct of the judiciary and gives credence to claims of judicial capture. CIASA is deeply concerned about these developments as they prolong the lack of representation of citizens in those constituencies in what appears to be a game of smokes and mirrors.Elections are the gateway of citizen participation in a representative democracy model like Zimbabwe and citizens must choose those who govern them in line with section 3(b)(iii) of the constitution which guarantees adequate representation of the electorate. We therefore urge ZEC to take all possible legal measures to ensure that citizens in these constituencies enjoy their right to vote and to be represented at the earliest possible time.