Zimbabwe: Rights Commission Harangues Govt Over By-Election Ban

President Emmerson Mnangagwa (file photo).
16 October 2020

The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has issued a candid rebuke of government's apparent abuse of Covid-19 lockdown period through an unpopular ban on by-elections.

This follows a recent decree stopping all pending national by-elections by Vice President and substantive Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga.

Chiwenga said the suspension on by-elections was "for the duration of the period of declaration of Covid-19 as a formidable epidemic disease".

In a statement, the rights authority called on government to respect people's political rights by making sure that the desire to contain the spread of Covid-19 did not infringe democratic rights.

The rights commission accused the government of failing to respect pluralism, broadmindedness and tolerance in coming up with the directive.

"Government authorities and structures must exercise separation of powers, consultative engagements and inclusion in serious decision-making processes.

"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 taking shortcuts which in the long run may tend to persist and become permanent features eroding or diminishing democratic principles and values," ZHRC said.

The commission urged the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to continue exercising its independence and autonomy on electoral processes as per its constitutional mandate.

It also urged citizens to peacefully claim their constitutional rights and take duty bearers to account.

The Commission drew the attention of the government to other jurisdictions such as Malawi which conducted its Presidential elections on the 23rd of June 2020, when the pandemic was still posing serious threat.

Tanzania has a general election 28 October while South Africa, which recorded the continent's highest confirmed Covid-19 cases, is proceeding with its elections.

ZHRC noted Covid-19 active cases have significantly declined and no longer as alarming as in other countries in the region, making the indefinite suspension of by-elections in Zimbabwe a contradiction to the situation on the ground.

The rights commission also questioned the rationale behind blocking polls at a time local schools, churches among other populous places are being opened.

Said the commission, "The pronouncement that elections be suspended appears contradictory and selective as other electoral processes were held and continue to take place, for instance, the ruling party Zanu PF, proceeded with its primary elections in Kwekwe on the 4th of October 2020 and preparations are being made for the holding of District Coordinating Committees (DCC) elections countrywide."

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