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Vacancies Accumulate in Zimbabwe Parliament Amid Uncertainty How to Fill Them

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Chairman George Chiweshe said in an interview published on Monday by the state-run Herald newspaper that his panel was not in a position to organize by-elections to fill parliamentary vacancies because it lacks the funds to do so.

But observers noted that it is not clear whether Chiweshe's commission is even authorized to oversee elections, as it is to be superseded by a new electoral body yet to be appointed.

Chiweshe said his commission has been informed of eight vacancies in the House of Assembly and four in the Senate due to deaths or party disciplinary actions.

VOA was unable to reach Chiweshe for further comment. His panel was widely considered to have discredited itself in conducting March 2008 elections, when parliamentary results were slowly eked out and presidential first-round results took more than a month to be announced amid suspicion they had been tampered with to force a June presidential runoff.

President Robert Mugabe claimed re-election in that runoff after then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, withdrew to protest post-election violence.

The vacancies raise a number of thorny issues. For one thing, the parties to the September 2008 Global Political Agreement stipulated that they would not contest seats vacated during the first year of the agreement - but non-signing parties are not bound by the clause thus independent candidates could insist on a by-election and challenge the incumbent party.

That clause expires Sept. 15, the one-year anniversary of the GPA's signature, but there is said to be discussion among the governing partners of extending that standstill pact.

With respect to Chiweshe's panel, some express doubt whether his electoral commission has any authority as a reformed commission authorized by Amendment 19 to the constitution of Zimbabwe is overdue to be established through the appointment of its members.

Senate seats to be filled include Gokwe South, vacated when Jaison Machaya was appointed governor and resident minister of Midlands Province. The Chiredzi seat is also vacant due to the appointment of Titus Maluleke as governor of eastern Masvingo Province.

The Bindura North and Mutare North seats in the House were left empty by the deaths of ZANU-PF members Elliot Manyika and Charles Pemhenayi, respectively.

And the Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara has expelled several of its lawmakers for breaching party discipline.

National Director Rindai Chipfunde-Vava of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that elections must be held soon because the non-representation of constituencies tends to undermine democracy.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...