By Staff Writer
The suspension of local elections due to the outbreak of COVID-19 could be an affront to democracy, analysts have said.
On March 25, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced the suspension of electoral activities but law experts and political scientist said the move was in violation of the country’s supreme laws.
ZEC chairperson Priscilla Chigumba‘s statement was made with reference to an upcoming by-election in Ward 16 of the Chiredzi Rural District Council which was scheduled for the 4th of April 2020, but it also applies to Parliamentary as well as local authority by-elections.
However, Human Rights lawyer Kudzai Kadzere said the electoral management body was violating the Constitution.
Section 67 of the Constitution gives every Zimbabwean citizen the fundamental right to free, fair and regular elections for any elective public office. Again, the word “regular” is used. So regularity of elections is one of the things to which citizens are entitled as part of this fundamental right.
“ZEC is crossing into uncharted waters and suspending democracy which is a key founding value of our nation as per the 2013 Constitution. It’s not only unlawful but quite sad to say the least,” Kadzere said.
South Africa-based political analyst Blessing Vava also concurred with Kadzere saying the move, while it seeks to contain the spread of the virus would set the wrong precedence.
“The suspension of the elections could have far reaching implications for the health of democracy in Zimbabwe,” Vava said.
“Already we have seen that the government of Zimbabwe has been systematically using the lockdown as means to curtail fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution. It looks more like the country is in a state of emergency meant to deal with dissent and closure of democratic space rather than dealing with a health disaster.”
Parliamentary watchdog Veritas in its Bill Watch said ZEC should have consulted political parties before making the announcement.
“Our conclusion is that ZEC probably acted unlawfully when it suspended all electoral activities until the end of the COVID-19 epidemic,” Veritas said
“Even if the suspension was legally correct, we think that ZEC went about it the wrong way. The chairperson announced it, presumably with the approval of her fellow commissioners, but her announcement was not followed up with an official notice in the Gazette or a newspaper. And, so far as we are aware, before announcing the suspension she did not consult all the political parties likely to be affected by it.” Get all COVID-19 statistics for Zimbabwe from COVID-TRACKER