By Lovejoy Mutongwiza
The Election Resource Centre (ERC) says government must not hide behind COVID-19 as an excuse to ban by-elections as Zambia recently held its elections with only 2% of its population vaccinated.
Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) suspended by-elections last year citing the need to adhere to COVID-19 preventive measures.
More than 40 parliamentary seats and 80 council seats are still vacant after the recalls last year.
The MDC-T led by Douglas Mwonzora filled more than 15 proportional representation seats in Senate and the National Assembly.
Section 158(2) of the Constitution provides that a by-election should be held within 90 days of the occurrence of a vacancy, whether in Parliament or in local authorities, however, this has not happened.
ERC Acting Programs Manager, Solomon Bobosibunu who has been observing the Zambian polls, told 263Chat that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should take a leaf from Zambia’s approach and allow people to exercise their constitutional rights.
He said the vaccination drive by Zimbabwe makes it safer to hold elections now than before.
“It goes to show that Zambia hasn’t even done half a million in terms of the dose but Zimbabwe has far much exceeded those numbers with a cumulative of the second dose being 1 198 381 and the second dose being 2 036 299 doses.
At the time of going to the polls, Zambia had vaccinated a total of 307 471 with the first dose of the vaccine while 210 975 for the second dose.
“All these activities that happened in Zambia simply means the majority of the people are not vaccinated but they simply followed all the other protocols that are allowed by the WHO which include among others, social distancing, masking up, sanitizing, and making sure you don’t move around unnecessarily and the rallies have been minimised so this is an important aspect,” Bobosibunu said.
The Africa Union Observer Mission to Zambia in its preliminary report commended Zambia for putting in place measures that enabled elections to take place despite the COVID-19 threat.
“The Covid-19 pandemic was a key challenge to the electoral process. However, the Mission notes that the ECZ and other stakeholders put in place preventive measures to ensure that Zambians participate safely in the process.
“These measures include the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) Against Covid-19, optimization of digital platforms for voter sensitisation, the mandatory wearing of masks at the polls, social distancing, and hand sanitizing/washing. However, on Election Day the Mission observed these measures were not systematically adhered to,” the mission said.
It further noted that campaigns which were held between 14 May and 11 August 2021 were largely adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
“The AUEOM acknowledges efforts made by political parties to adhere to Covid-19 restrictions in adopting alternative campaign strategies such as door-to-door and virtual campaigns, to prevent the spread of the virus,” the statement further reads.
Bobosibunu said vaccination is only a component of the management and the prevention and containment of the Covid-19 and in that regard, it cannot be used exclusively to then deny citizens the opportunity to participate in the electoral activities that are set out in the constitution and the electoral laws of the country
“We believe there is no credibility in the reasoning that elections can be suspended on the basis of COVID-19,” he said.
He added that two days after elections in Zambia, the infections in Lusaka are very
“So we only see COVID-19 as a smokescreen to suppress the will of the people, the will of the citizens of Zimbabwe who are interested in participating in the governance of their country as provided for in the constitution of Zimbabwe so this smokescreen must actually be cleared and people must be allowed to register to vote,” Bobosibunu further added.
Local opposition leaders and rights activists have argued that the continued ban on by-elections was unjustified since countries that were severely hit by COVID-19 held theirs.