BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has blamed President Emmerson Mnangagwa for continuously deferring by-elections by not exercising his Executive powers to proclaim election dates.
Zec has been under criticism for its continued suspension of by-elections citing COVID-19 restrictions after about 48 parliamentary seats and over 80 council seats fell vacant following recalls of MDC Alliance legislators and councillors by the Douglas Mwonzora-led MDC-T party.
Zec commissioner Qhubani Moyo yesterday said the electoral management body last September announced dates for by-elections before Mnangagwa reversed the decision through promulgation of Statutory Instrument (SI) 10 of 2021, citing COVID-19 fears.
Speaking during a virtual meeting held under the theme, Zambia’s Historic Elections: Lessons for Zimbabwe which was hosted by the Centre for Information and Technology, Moyo said: “Zec once announced dates for the holding of elections, but the SI then came in.”
“Countries have responded differently to COVID-19, our response has almost been like that of South Africa. Zec will hold elections once the SI is out of the way. Zec manages elections, but the proclamation of dates is done by the President and because of the SI in place, proclamation has not been done.”
He added: “There is also a court challenge of the SI which also complicates the work of Zec. Zimbabwe has always held elections when due, but with COVID-19 elections had to be suspended. Currently, there is an SI in place which makes it impossible for Zec to hold elections even if it wanted.”
Moyo also said there was an overwhelming number of people who were willing to register to vote, but it would open more registration centres when the COVID-19 “scare” was over.
The meeting was attended by rights activists and election analysts from Zimbabwe and Zambia.
“Zec has noted the appetite people have to register to vote and will increase access to registration when the COVID-19 scare is out of the way,” Moyo said.
He dismissed accusations that the commission was biased towards Zanu PF, saying opposition parties viewed the commission with suspicion because they wanted favours from it.
Zec has been accused of necessitating poll theft against MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa in favour of Mnangagwa, who won the election with 50,7% of the votes against Chamisa’s 44,3% in the 2018 presidential poll.
Moyo admitted that there was unfair coverage of political parties on State media, with the ruling Zanu PF party dominating coverage.
“There is a provision in the law for parties contesting in elections to be allowed space to campaign in the media, but some parties have not been able to utilise it. In some cases, the incumbent has benefited as its candidates have also been covered as government officials,” he said.
“Zec shouldn’t be pressured to announce results and then blamed for errors. Zec should be left to announce within the five days provided for in the law unless it is changed. After all, the results would be announced and displayed outside polling stations soon after voting.”
Human rights activist and Zimbabwe Elections Support Network board member Rosewita Katsande said the Zambian elections had proved that it was possible for Zimbabwe to hold its own elections amid the pandemic, subject to adherence to COVID-19 protocols.
Zambia held its polls two weeks ago under the COVID-19 pandemic. Hakainde Hachilema, who was an opposition leader beat the incumbent Edgar Lungu and has since been inaugurated.
“There is a need to ensure the political consciousness of the youth in Zimbabwe so that they understand how participation in politics can change their conditions,” Katsande said.
“Messages should respond to youth concerns.”
Zambian election analyst Susan Mwape, who was a guest speaker at the meeting, said civil society groups, churches and artists played a key role in mobilising people to vote.