AN electoral watchdog, the Election Resource Centre (ERC), says the 9 December by-elections lacked credibility, bringing into question the role of the courts in endorsing vacancies in Parliament emanating from a letter written to Speaker Jacob Mudenda by an imposter Sengezo Tshabangu purporting to be interim secretary-general of the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Nelson Chamisa.
The ERC also questioned how the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) handled the by-elections, saying it was a repeat of how it conducted the 23 August polls condemned as a sham by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and other international observers.
“The by-elections took place against the backdrop of concerns around the freeness, fairness, and credibility of electoral processes and the impact of the decline in electoral integrity on participatory democracy in Zimbabwe following the 23-24 August 2023 harmonised elections,” reads part of the ERC report obtained by The NewsHawks.
“The credibility crisis faced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) has been brought about by concerns related to the 2023 harmonised elections as spelled out in observer mission reports. As a result of late judgements from courts in resolving candidate disputes from CCC, local stakeholders were concerned whether grounds existed for a credible election as candidates were barred 48 hours before the election, and the Electoral Commission did not have adequate opportunity to inform the electorate on the issues nor was the electorate afforded an opportunity to make informed decisions as some only realised disqualified candidates on election day.”
The electoral watchdog also questioned how Zec conducted the by-elections in the midst of legal matters and unresolved issues such as the death of cleric and opposition activist Tapfumanei Masaya in Mabvuku-Tafara.
“There were calls made for the Commission to call for the suspension of the by-elections pending the outcomes of the legal issues impacting the by-election. The murder of CCC supporter Tapfumanei Masaya in Mabvuku-Tafara constituency on 13 November 2023, just over three weeks before the by-election, further cast a dark cloud on the by-elections. No arrests have been made to date as the police continue with the investigation. However, despite these concerns, the by-elections proceeded,” reads the report.
The ERC further said Parliament must look to amend the laws to establish a timeline by which all disputes related to nomination are settled, with reasonable timeframes to enable the election management body to design, print and deploy election materials on time as well as provide candidates sufficient time to campaign openly without any doubt or unknown future court decisions or challenges.
The watchdog further said eligible voters must be given enough time to make informed decisions in the selection of candidates who have been duly nominated for the election.
The by-elections took place to fill vacancies for eightlegislators representing Bulawayo South (Bulawayo Metropolitan province), Cowdray Park (Bulawayo metropolitan province), Lobengula-Magwegwe (Bulawayo metropolitan province), Mpopoma-Mzilikazi (Bulawayo metropolitan province), Nketa (Bulawayo metropolitan province), Lupane East (Matabeleland North province), Binga North (Matabeleland North province) and Beitbridge West constituency (Matabeleland South province).
The seats became vacant due to the contentious recall of the MPs who represented the CCC by Tshabangu. By-elections were originally scheduled to take place in nine constituencies, including in Mabvuku-Tafara (Harare Province), where there were two candidates: a CCC candidate and a Zanu PF candidate. However, two days before the planned elections, on 7 December 2023, a High Court ruling disqualified the CCC candidate.
As a result, the Zanu PF candidate was proclaimed elected without opposition. The ERC said the electorate must be respected and accorded their rights and power by exercising their right to vote freely and fairly to confer legitimacy to political leaders who will govern them. The jurisprudence set out by the judiciary in electoral issues ought to promote political rights and citizen centrality to elections.
“All these above areas will help create confidence in the public and voters and political players in the administration of elections in Zimbabwe, thereby reducing levels of contestations and addressing trust and confidence deficits in elections,” reads the ERC report.
Following the death of Masaya during the campaign period ahead of the by-elections, the security forces, especially the police, should ensure that all the persons participating in elections, be they voters or candidates, are accorded enough security to carry on with their activities, says the ERC.
The watchdog added that elections should not become a matter of life and death but avenues to strengthen Zimbabwe’s democracy.
“The ERC notes that the courts have seemingly taken a restrictive approach to the interpretation of laws and regulations guiding electoral conduct and there is potential that their conduct has usurped the role of the Commission in the administration of elections. The effect is that courts are now deemed to decide the election, that is, who participates and who does not. In addition, the court rulings were delivered too late in the process hence creating more confusion,” reads the report.