THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) yesterday denied any wrongdoing in suspending all electoral activities over COVID-19 after an independent electoral watchdog red-flagged the move as potentially illegal and unconstitutional.
BY NQOBANI NDLOVU
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said suspending elections to ostensibly “avoid violating lockdown measures currently in place” is unconstitutional.
Suspending elections also went against Zec’s strategic plan 2019-2024, which calls for consultations and stakeholder engagements before any such decisions are taken, Zesn added in its analysis titled Zec’s Suspension of Elections Quarantines Democracy.
The Zec strategic plan states that “electoral stakeholders play a key role in creating public confidence in Zec” and urges the commission to “institutionalise stakeholder engagement and to develop an operational culture that makes it responsive to the needs of the stakeholders”.
“In the absence of these consultations, Zec could at least have considered postponing, rather than suspending electoral activities. But even postponement cannot be indefinite. Zesn notes that the suspension of electoral activities was not done in terms of the law,” Zesn argued.
“Section 132 allows Zec to change dates, but does not mandate Zec to change without giving notice of its decision in the Gazette and in the media and beyond 90 days. Zec should note that any postponement beyond 90 days from the date a vacancy arises as provided for in section 158(3) of the Constitution is potentially illegal and unconstitutional.”
Zec chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana yesterday argued the commission acted within the parameters of an emergency health situation.
“The Zec acted within the parameters of an emergency health crisis, where it had to look at the safety of the voter, election observers and others. Under normal situations, we could have done such (consultations etc),” Silaigwana told NewsDay.
“How do we consult stakeholders without a position? It is for this reason that we are working on a policy that we will take to the stakeholders on how to conduct elections during the COVID-19 period.”
Opposition parties have cast doubt on Zec’s credibility after crying foul of electoral malpractices it argues have resulted in Zanu PF rigging its way to victory.
Zesn said decisions such as suspending elections without consulting stakeholders further dent Zec’s credibility to conduct credible elections.