The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) expresses concern over the indefinite suspension of by-elections by the Minister of Health and Child Care, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga.
The move taken as a health emergency COVID-19 response undercuts constitutional principles on freedom of expression, good electoral practice and curtails the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) and
In terms of section 68 of the Public Health Act (Chapter 15:17), government enacted Statutory Instrument 225A of 2020 which will be cited as Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020, No 4). The SI suspended by-elections that had been pencilled to be held on 5 December 2020.
While the special policy has been enacted in response to containing the pandemic, Zesn reiterates its concerns over the seemingly quarantining of democracy as it is not clear when the restrictions will be lifted, moreso given that no one knows how long the pandemic will last.
Zesn notes that the amendment to suspend by-elections comes a few weeks after the Zec, in consultation with the Health ministry, recently published a COVID-19 policy on elections, paving way for the conduct of by-elections in the context of the COVID-19.
Subsequently, last month, Zec further announced when byelections would be held to ll over 30 vacant seats either due to party recalls or other reasons such as death in the COVID-19 era.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Parliament conducted public hearings on Constitutional Amendment Bill No 2 at the height of the pandemic, as citizens queue on a daily basis for basic commodities, cash outs at banks and money agents, social welfare and food aid from government, foundations, nongovernmental organisations and churches, among other organisations are providing aid whil observing safety measures.
Malawi conducted general elections only recently. Tanzania is set to hold theirs on October 28, the United States and South Africa are on course to conduct general and municipal elections in November 2020.
There is need to strike a balance between ensuring the health and safety of all stakeholders and upholding the law. Zesn recommends more dialogue between Zec and electoral stakeholders on alternative methods of conducting elections that will ensure the health and safety for all involved.