By-elections: Covid-19 restrictions could hamper political campaigns

Political parties participating in the March 26 by-elections have to wait for President Emmerson Mnangagwa to make an announcement on the Covid-19 restrictions before embarking on their campaigns, a senior government official has said.

Indications so far point to a positive outlook with indications the Covid-19 restrictions may be eased, said Deputy Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet (Presidential Communications), George Charamba, who, however, stressed the review would depend on the situation on the ground.

Covid-19 restrictions are usually reviewed after two weeks and during the last announcement delivered by President Mnangagwa on December 31 last year, the Level 2 lockdown restrictions were extended for two more weeks.

When Covid-19 hit the country in March 2020, all electoral activities were put on hold, as the government outlawed the holding of by-elections ‘breaking’ a constitutional rule that polls must be held within 90 days of a vacancy either in parliament or in local authorities.

It was only last week that President Mnangagwa finally set aside January 26 and March 26 as dates for the sitting of nomination courts to receive names of the candidates and polling, respectively.

In an interview with CITE, the presidential spokesperson said the government was yet to make a review of the Covid-19 regulations.

“Anyway in view of the Covid-19 situation particularly, the Omicron variant you are aware that the government has just extended the Level Two lockdown for the next two weeks, of which we are well in the second week of that announcement, after which there will be a review of the situation,” he said.

“As figures stand by way of infection, as well as mortality there’s a lot that gives us hope that maybe guided by science guided by expert opinion, maybe it should be possible for us to review positively the lockdown situation.”

Political parties, civic society and the diplomatic community accused authorities of using public health concerns to justify crackdowns on the opposition and shrinking the civic space while the ruling party Zanu PF was holding large gatherings.

Charamba noted that the campaign period for political parties would only kick start after the nomination court sits as set by the Electoral Act.

“The Electoral Act talks about a campaign period and it starts after nomination. We are far from nomination. The campaign period as defined in the Electoral Act is the campaign period has not kicked in, as we speak just now, which means your concerns, preoccupation, worries are putting the proverbial cart before the horse,” he said.

The presidential spokesperson highlighted citizens would only know the outcome of the lockdown situation, after the expiry of the second week.

“We are waiting for the update result, maybe there may be a continuation, escalation, de-escalation as we wait – we comply with the rules.  After the update only then shall we know if there is relaxation, de-escalation and escalation but we are far away from a crisis,” he said referring to lack of political activity.

Charamba also noted that political parties and candidates must be creative to engage with their structures.

“Under the Zanu PF experience, they still held elections under the lockdown, they even resorted to online communication. I’m not suggesting that but this is another jurisdiction that can be dealt with,” he said.

When pressed that the Zanu PF led government was defying the lockdown orders by meeting large gatherings, the presidential spokesperson responded by saying, the only gatherings he knew of were developmental meetings.

“What rallies? I only know of development meetings. Recently we introduced the heifer programme to empower youths, in any case, us meeting crowds depends on the permissible venue and the World Health Organisation protocols. Besides, why ask as if there is a meeting that has been stopped – don’t be charged upon a non-constituency,” Charamba said.

He then emphasised, “let’s wait until the announcement has been made but the figures look very promising in fact I’m more worried about the school question than the political. The school situation as well will depend on looking at the figures, infection and drastic drop of cases.”

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