Civil society organisations, under the Crisis in Coalition Zimbabwe (CiZC), have petitioned the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to intervene and push Harare to hold by-elections in all vacant local council and parliamentary seats.
Last year, the government suspended by-elections as the country grappled with the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba also endorsed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s declaration of coronavirus as a national disaster and postponed all electoral activities until further notice.
However, CiZC has accused President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration of using Covid-19 as an excuse to stifle opposition political parties and close the democratic space in Zimbabwe.
At least 80 local council and 40 parliamentary seats are vacant.
Most seats became vacant in 2020 and early this year when the MDC-T led by Douglas Mwonzora recalled councillors and MPs claiming they had defected and joined the rival MDC Alliance led by Nelson Chamisa. Some are due to deaths.
The purges in the MDC-T continue.
However, in a petition to SADC, referenced as; Shrinking Democratic Space, the CiZC called on the regional body to immediately intervene on the issue of the continued ban on by-elections in Zimbabwe where the government is insisting the suspension was part of its measures to stop the spread of the deadly virus.
The letter is addressed to the newly elected SADC executive secretary Elias Mpedi Magosi.
“We have seen how the Zimbabwe government has weaponised Covid-19. You realise that in SADC and in all SADC countries elections are taking place, but in Zimbabwe, we have had no elected representatives both at local government level and legislature of officials that have been recalled,” Rashid Mahiya, the CiZC chairperson, said in a separate interview with the media.
“There are no by-elections that are taking place under the guise that there is Covid-19, but we have seen elections taking place in Zambia, Malawi, elections are going to take place in South Africa.”
Malawi held elections in June 2020, Zambia last August, and South Africa is expected to hold local council elections next month.
Contributing to a parliamentary debate on the ZEC report for the year 2020 recently, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi maintained the country was sticking to the suspension of by-elections due to Covid-19.
He said polls would only take place upon the achievement of vaccination targets. Zimbabwe is targeting to vaccinate 10 million citizens. Statistics from the Health Ministry show that by last Sunday, nearly three million people had received the Covid-19 jab.
“You do not vote when you are dead. You do not exercise your democratic rights when you are dead,” Ziyambi told lawmakers recently.
“I believe that all things being equal, once we have reached herd immunity, we are going to vote. So for now, we stick to the laws that are there.”
However, the MPs shot down Ziyambi’s response arguing by-elections and representation in Parliament and local councils were key ingredients in a democratic society.
Dzivaresekwa MP Edwin Mushoriwa said by failing to conduct by-elections at least 20% of the citizens were not represented in Parliament and this puts the “democratic ethos of a country in jeopardy”.
“We do not want to have a situation where other people will then tend to view the electoral commission as a commission in handcuffs. It appears as if it is doing the bidding of other people rather than the mandate which it was given by the Constitution and the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
“We have had quite a number of church gatherings, some apostolic sects having more than 10 000 people gathered at a shrine. Right now, we are here passing laws, budgets, and other things, but we also need to be cognisant – what about the people of Kuwadzana, who do not have a voice in Parliament?
“What about the people in Highfield, in Mkoba? They also need to have their voice. They need to have a channel upon which they can throw in some of their recommendations and some of the things that they want Parliament to do and to change.”
Meanwhile, the CiZC in its petition has also appealed to SADC for the regional body to intervene and investigate the continued “assault, harassment and arrests” of human rights and political activists, and journalists in Zimbabwe by state actors.
SADC is yet to respond to CiZC’s letter. New Zimbabwe