Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has condemned a decision by the government to indefinitely suspend by-elections, describing the move as a violation of people’s democratic and political rights.
The by-elections, which were scheduled for December, are meant to fill parliamentary and local government seats which became vacant after the opposition MDC-T led by Thokozani Khupe recalled MDC Alliance members.
In a statement, ZHRC noted that the dangers of Covid-19 are no longer as grave as before as members of the public have been effectively adhering to the stipulated regulations hence are in a position to responsibly exercise their right to vote.
“The Commission appreciates the dangers and threats to the rights to health and life which came with this pandemic and has been actively urging people to adhere to regulations in place to curb its spread. Covid-19 is indeed a threat to hence swift and effective government action is necessary,” the statement read.
ZHRC highlighted that International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (to which Zimbabwe is a party) provides that citizens have the right and opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs directly or through chosen representatives, meaning the right to vote through electoral processes.
“The Commission therefore draws the attention of the government to other jurisdictions such as Malawi which conducted its presidential elections on June 23 when the pandemic was still posing serious threats,” read the statement.
The commission recommended that the government observes and respects the democratic and political rights of its people as enshrined in the Constitution and other regional and international instruments and guidelines.
“While restrictions may be necessary in a democratic society, they must respect pluralism, broadmindedness and tolerance. Measures should be for a limited period of time not indefinite. Government authorities and structures must exercise separation of powers, consultative engagements and inclusion in serious decision making processes,” the Commission recommended.
“Pandemics should not be used as an opportunity for States to unleash Absolute Executive Powers. Such powers should be exercised fairly and reasonably and should avoid shortcuts which in the long run may tend to persist and become permanent ending or diminishing democratic principles and values.”