Zimbabwe: ZEC Called Out for 'Unlawful' Press Statement

25 March 2021

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been called to order after it used a press statement to arbitrarily lift the suspension of elections.

According to an election watchdog, Election Resource Centre (ERC), the use of press statements by ZEC is unlawful to suspend and thereafter, lift the suspension of by-elections is unlawful as the election managing body has no constitutional jurisdiction to do so.

This comes after ZEC used a press statement Tuesday to announce that election-related activities, except for by-elections, are resuming following the easing of the national COVID-19 induced lockdown.

"(The) use of Press Releases to resume electoral activities remains illegal. The ERC observes with concern the continued use of press statements by ZEC to resume and suspend electoral activities. ZEC illegally suspended electoral activities through a press statement on the 7th of January 2021 and resumed operations on the 23rd of March 2021 using the same modus operandi, perpetuating an illegal way of administering electoral processes.

"The ERC maintains that while ZEC has a constitutional mandate to administer elections, the law does not give the body discretion to arbitrarily start and stop processes without a court order," the statement from ERC reads.

ERC further stated that the resumption of electoral activities is devoid of electoral reforms which must precede any resumption.

"The press statement issued by ZEC does not outline what has been done to institute reforms and any plans in place to implement administrative reforms that are key in restoring public trust and confidence of stakeholders in the management of elections.

"Accordingly, ZEC should invest in actively pursuing long outstanding administrative reforms. The future of elections rests in reform, a position already adopted by the government and only awaiting operationalization," ERC said.

ZEC Is also accused of sidelining key stakeholders who have resorted to being spectators while the commission dribbles past them.

"While the resumption of electoral activities is procedural and illegal, ZEC has also relegated the role of stakeholders in being 'advised' accordingly. The Commission in advising stakeholders of the review process for the resumption of by-elections has defied the notion of inclusivity.

"The statement by the Electoral Body suggests a negative attitude towards inclusion of stakeholders thereby making ZEC a law unto itself and unaccountable to citizens and stakeholders," the statement further state.

The ERC also questioned why ZEC was not opening up on its reasons for not resuming by-elections at a time when all activities have resumed albeit following strictly COVID-19 regulations.

"No explanation is given why a selective approach has been taken in lifting the suspension of electoral activities. ERC reiterates that ZEC should pursue a Court order to postpone elections as a product of exhaustive consultations with stakeholders. In addition, should the order be granted to suspend the by-elections, the ensuing suspension period should be effectively used to institute long-awaited reforms," ERC said.

In its recommendations, ERC urged ZEC to submit itself to the Constitution and best practices in administering electoral processes during the COVID-19 global pandemic through non-selective compliance with legal and regional and international standards that include inclusivity in decision making, transparency in operations and accountability to all election stakeholders.

ERC also said ZEC should reaffirm its independence by pronouncing itself on the status of by-elections and not just some electoral processes.

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