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US official defends messages on voter registration

The Acting United States Ambassador in Zimbabwe, Thomas Hastings has defended social media posts urging Zimbabwe to hold by-elections which riled government officials with government spokesperson Ndavaningi Mangwana labelling them as inflammatory.

In series of tweets, Thursday, the United States embassy in Harare urged Zimbabweans to register to vote and questioned the continued ban on by-elections and other electoral activities due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Government officials reacted angrily with state media describing them as undiplomatic.

Speaking on the sidelines of a tour of Princess Margaret Clinic and Bambanani New Start Centre in Bulawayo on Friday, Hastings emphasised that voter registration is a key process in the electoral roadmap.

“The general subject of democracy, voter registration and also the by-elections, we applaud the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for its …of the voter registration process, also for beginning the census and delimitation processes and I believe one of our Tweets we have a quote from our Vice President Kamala Harris which said the right to vote is the right which unlocks all the rights, so this is something that we feel very strongly about,” said Hastings.

“We feel democracy is important, we feel elections are good, we feel that voter registration is, of course, a key piece to having good elections and thus why we are pleased to see the voter registration underway here and yes we encourage Zimbabweans to take part in voter registration .”

Hastings said despite the Covid-19 global pandemic, many countries have successfully held elections and expressed confidence that Zimbabwe would be able to hence he is confident that the country will also be able to hold elections.

“The constitution of Zimbabwe says there should be by-elections when there are vacancies; I know that under Covid-19 there have to be safety considerations but many countries in the world, including our own, have managed to hold elections safely even during Covid-19 and especially as I said a moment ago that Zimbabwe has done so well with vaccination compared to the rest of Africa and one of the highest vaccination coverage rates in Africa; I am confident that by-elections can be held safely here in Zimbabwe as well,” he said.

On the Covid-19 vaccination drive, Hastings said they were impressed with the way the government has handled the programme.

“We have been very impressed with the process of the Government of Zimbabwe in vaccinating its people against Covid-19, Zimbabwe is one of the countries in Africa that has achieved the highest vaccination coverage; the last time I looked at the numbers it was something around 12 percent of the population here has been vaccinated and the average in Africa is only four percent, so clearly Zimbabwe is doing something very right in that area which is extremely important,” said Hastings.

He said the US Government has provided over US$24 million on Covid-19 specific interventions in Zimbabwe.

“The US Government has provided over US$24 million on Covid-19 specific interventions, helping the country cope with Covid-19, it’s a smaller piece than HIV overall but its an important supplement to help Zimbabwe cope with the pandemic,” the US official said.

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