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File pic: Priscilla Chigumba, ZEC Chairperson during the 2018 elections

Politics

Perpetual by-elections suspension unjustified: Zesn

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AN independent election watchdog and a community public health civic group have called on the government to consider targeted Covid-19 vaccination programmes in vacant constituencies to pave the way for the holding of long overdue by-elections.

LIZWE SEBATHA

Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga in October issued Statutory Instrument 225A of 2020, indefinitely suspending elections citing the Covid-19 pandemic. Incidentally, Zanu PF has not suspended the holding of its intra-party elections.

At the time of the announcement, the country was scheduled to hold by-elections in December following the recall of MDC-Alliance legislators and councillors by the MDC then led by former deputy prime minister Thokozani Khupe.

Khupe later lost the post to secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora in an elective congress. By-elections remain suspended despite several calls from rights’ groups, opposition parties and other stakeholders who insist the ban is an assault on democracy.

In July 2021, Justice and Legal Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi told Parliamentarians that by-elections will remain suspended until the country achieves herd immunity by vaccinating about 60% of the population.

Election watchdog Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) and the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH), however argued elections cannot be suspended forever as they proposed the rollout of targeted vaccination programmes at vacant constituencies.

“Given the extended suspension of by-elections on account of Covid-19, the government could consider a targeted vaccination programme in constituencies and wards where elected representatives were recalled or died so as to pave way for the holding of by-elections to ensure adequate representation of the citizenry,” the Zesn said in its recommendations contained in a latest situational report titled Monitoring Responses to Covid-19.

As of 6 September, a total of 2 729 955 had received first jabs with 1 728 797 having received their first and second jabs.

In an interview on Wednesday, CWGH executive director Itai Rusike weighed in saying the country can take a leaf from the recent Zambian election where the risk of Covid-19 transmission was minimal by observing World Health Organisation Covid-19 preventive standards such as the wearing of masks, temperature screening and social distancing.

“Targeted vaccination for the vacant constituencies that are due to hold by-elections can be another option as this will not be the first time that Zimbabwe has carried out targeted vaccination, having done a similar vaccination programme in the resort city of Victoria Falls and thereby reaching localised herd immunity that allowed for increased tourist arrivals,” Rusike said.

“We can also consider staggering or extending the voting hours to reduce the number of people voting at the same time as this can help to lower the risk of Covid-19 transmission.”

In July, cabinet announced the opening of the prime tourism destination Victoria Falls to visitors who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, with Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa adding that this was “in view of the realisation that over 60% of the population in Victoria Falls has been vaccinated”.

On Tuesday this week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa further relaxed Covid-19 regulations as he moved the country from level four to level two, but remained silent on elections. Mnangagwa attended the inauguration of Zambian President Haikande Hichilema in a ceremony attended by thousands.

 

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