BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
HUMAN rights defenders have blasted the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) for its continued suspension of by-elections citing COVID-19 restrictions.
Zec chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana in a statement yesterday announced that the electoral body had lifted the suspension on voter registration processes, but would maintain the ban on by-elections until further notice.
Around 48 parliamentary seats and over 80 council seats recently fell vacant after the Douglas Mwonzora-led MDC-T and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) recalled MPs and councillors who contested the 2018 polls on an MDC Alliance ticket.
Silaigwana said the voter registration process would resume on April 1, 2021.
“In view of the danger still posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to uphold some health provisions of Statutory Instrument (SI) 10 of 2021 which are still in force, the conduct of by-elections remains suspended,”the Zec statement read.
“This position will be reviewed in due course and stakeholders will be advised accordingly. The commission is advising citizens who qualify to register as voters and those wishing to transfer their registrations to visit voter registration centres at Zec provincial and district centres.”
Government last month eased lockdown restrictions allowing the resumption of intercity travel and normal business operations, but under strict COVID-19
Opposition leaders and rights activists said the continued ban on by-elections to replace recalled legislators was unjustified since countries that were hard-hit by COVID-19 were holding elections.
MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti yesterday told NewsDay that following the relaxation of the lockdown measures, several activities had resumed and by-elections should not be an exception.
“Zec is violating the Constitution by prolonging the suspension of by-elections because it is a basic human right for one to choose a representative of his or her own choice.
“Many countries around the globe are holding elections but still observing the COVID-19 regulations.
“America is one country most affected by the pandemic, but they still managed to hold a safe election. If schools have been reopened, what then stops by-elections where adults are involved, to be carried out?” Biti
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika said the government should emulate other countries in upholding democratic governance through constitutionalism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The continued suspension of by-elections is anti-democratic. Many constituencies representing thousands of people are unrepresented following the recalls. We cannot continue to hide behind COVID-19 when political parties continue to have political engagements.
“Other countries have done general elections successfully. Zec has produced guidelines on conducting elections under COVID-19, but it is not clear why those guidelines are not being followed to conduct elections.”
Human Rights Watch Southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga said: “Zec seems complicit in the blatant attack on the will of the voters and other nefarious actions to undermine democracy. Zec must demonstrate that it is independent and committed to facilitating credible electoral processes in a COVID-19-safe environment as we have seen in several countries like Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda where the people were able to go to national elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, but with necessary protective measures.”
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