Failure to hold by-elections is another pandemic: ERC

The Election Resource Centre (ERC), an advocacy group on electoral issues, says the government’s failure to hold by-elections has become a pandemic in that it has threatened Zimbabwe’s democratic principles, as there are citizens who are currently unrepresented in Parliament and local authorities.

As a result, ERC has called upon President Emmerson Mnangagwa to announce the dates for by-elections as per his mandate, since there is no court order setting aside the elections.

ERC is also a think tank organisation that works to inform effective citizen participation as well as strengthen policy engagement towards the improvement of the quality of electoral and democratic practices in the country.

Electoral activities were suspended in March last year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic which by then had claimed one life in Zimbabwe.

Despite the easing of lockdown measures, the government has cited the Covid-19 pandemic and used Statutory Instrument 225a of 2020 to suspend electoral activities meant to replace vacant seats of parliamentarians or councillors who were recalled or left their seats due to other circumstances.

ERC said it was worrying how by-elections have remained illegally suspended yet the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had developed the Covid-19 Policy on Electoral Activities with clear guidelines on how electoral activities would be conducted under the pandemic.

“It has been 11 months since by-elections were suspended under Statutory Instrument 225a of 2020. The executive suspended the elections taking away the independence of ZEC. Despite the ZEC having developed the COVID-19 Policy on Electoral Activities with clear guidelines on how by-elections and other electoral Activities would be conducted under COVID19, by-elections have remained illegally suspended,” said the advocacy organisation in a statement.

Section 159 of the constitution requires vacant elective public offices to be filled within 90 days but ZEC has stated the conduct of by-elections remains suspended, although other electoral activities such as voter registration can be resumed, following the relaxation of lockdown measures.

ERC argues that failure to hold by-elections is now a crisis that threatens democracy and would be similar to a pandemic that affected democratic principles.

“Currently, Covid-19 is not the only pandemic affecting the delivery of credible elections. The failure to adhere to constitutional principles that are foundational to credible elections is another pandemic that is threatening democratic principles,” said the organisation.

According to the electoral think tank, by-elections are a litmus test to ZEC’s preparedness for the 2023 harmonised elections and these should have been done to see how both the electoral commission and players would conduct themselves.

“Responsible authorities must make sure that when by-elections are conducted, they are conducted in a transparent, accountable and credible manner that boosts the confidence of electoral stakeholders,” ERC said noting, “it is worrisome that citizens are currently unrepresented in Parliament and Local Authorities.”

Citing Section One of the Constitution, ERC said Zimbabwe is a unitary, democratic and sovereign Republic that was bound by principles of good governance, which include free, fair and regular elections according to Section 2(b)(ii).

“The ERC, therefore, calls for President Emmerson Mnangagwa to undertake his mandate of proclaiming by-elections since there is no court order setting aside the elections. Conclusively, the resumption of by-elections must be preceded by the implementation of electoral reforms as by-elections without reforms pose a threat to the credibility and acceptability of electoral outcomes,” said the advocacy organisation.”

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