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'Mnangagwa weaponising Covid-19'

by Staff reporter
04 Nov 2021 at 06:12hrs | Views
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) are ‘weaponising' the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic containment measures to conveniently perpetuate the delay in holding parliamentary and council by-elections, an elections watchdog has said.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) said it was concerned about the continued suspension of by-elections in light of the observations made regarding religious, political and social gatherings around the country.

ZESN said despite a ban on all elections-related activities, other forms of gatherings were being allowed to be held unhindered.

It said it observed that recently, there have been scores of people converging at religious or church gatherings and camps in Zimbabwe where concern about protecting peoples' health does not seem to have been given equal weight as in the suspension of by-elections.

The watchdog said Zimbabwe must take a cue from neighbouring countries where polls were recently held without spawning new Covid-19 positive cases.

Said ZESN: "The opening up of businesses, schools, restaurants, and bars; the recent elections in Zambia and the ongoing local government elections in neighbouring South Africa in the context of Covid-19, are a clear indication that by-elections can be held under strict Covid-19 protocols."

There is urgent need to review Statutory Instrument (SI) 225A promulgated by Vice President and Minister of Health and Child Care, Constantino Chiwenga, whose provisions indefinitely suspended by-elections as a means to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, ZESN further stated.

Policy discord was also standing in the way of clearing the path to hold successful plebiscites to fill vacant House of Assembly and local government seats.

"While by-elections were suspended by the Minister of Health and Child Care through SI 225A, and ZEC has been arguing that SI is standing in the way of the holding of by-elections – a position that ZEC Chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba recently reiterated to diplomats, the Deputy Minister of Health and Child Care Dr. John Mangwiro refuted the claim arguing that his ministry was not responsible for stopping by-elections as it did not have the role to supervise elections," ZESN said

Worryingly, ZESN said, this discord was disturbing and a sure sign of policy inconsistency and confusion on who authorises or suspends the holding of by-elections.

"In turn, this affects the credibility of elections and is contrary to promoting democracy and relevant human rights. The continued suspension of by-elections is non-compliant to regional and international instruments that govern the conduct of democratic elections that Zimbabwe is signatory to."

ZESN cited numerous cases in which huge gatherings, held in defiance of ongoing Covid-19 lockdown protocols, were allowed with impunity while important events like elections remain on ice."

"A case in point is a church gathering of the African Apostolic Church on 23 October in Harare South, attended by the Constituency's Member of Parliament Honourable Tongai Mnangagwa and covered by state-owned media, that attracted more than 16 000 congregants, and a much bigger one convened in Midlands from 29 to 31 October and addressed by Ambassador Victor Matemadanda," said the elections watchdog.

ZESN said apostolic sects and political party gatherings are commonplace, which brings into question the sincerity of the continued suspension of by-elections on account of the protection of public health, especially as by-elections are due in only selected wards and constituencies where only local voters will participate and turnout is usually low.

ZESN implored the government to lift SI 225A to avoid the further violation of the democratic rights of citizens.

"ZEC should hold by-elections in line with its policy on the conduct of elections amid Covid-19 and with Covid-19 protocols strictly enforced.

"This is important in ensuring the adequate representation of the electorate and protecting the health of democracy," said ZESN.

There are 28 vacant National Assembly and 105 vacancies in councils.

Source - NewZimbabwe