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Zimbabwe Suspends Parly, Council By-Elections Citing COVID-19 Fears

FILE: Zimbabwe's Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga speaks during the Defence Forces Day celebrations held at the National Sports Stadium in Harare on August 14, 2018. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP)

Zimbabwe has suspended parliamentary and council by-elections, which were expected to be help in December this year.

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the country’s health minister, made the announcement in Statutory Instrument 255 published Friday.

It read in part, “… The holding of any by-election to fill a casual vacancy in parliament or in a local authority is, for the duration of the period of the declaration of COVID-19 as a formidable epidemic disease, suspended and if such vacancy occurred while such declaration is in force, no part of the period from the date of such vacancy to the date of the end of the declaration shall be counted for the purposes of section 158(3) of the Constitution.”

The Nomination Court was expected to sit next week to select candidates to fill several parliamentary and council seats left vacant after the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Thokozani Khupe recalled from parliament and local authorities of lawmakers and councilors linked to Nelson Chamisa’s MDC Alliance.

The Khupe MDC formation started recalling them soon after the Supreme Court declared that Chamisa was not the legitimate leader of the MDC. The court restored Khupe as the legitimate heir to the late MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai.

Reacting to the suspension of the by-election, the MDC Alliance said in a tweet, “The suspension of by-elections is a vicious assault on the will of the people and the greatest threat to our democracy in as many decades. This is fascism. Democracy is dead. The people must and will fight back to defend their votes.”

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa and Information Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana were unavailable for comment as they were not responding to calls on their mobile phones.

Kent University law lecturer, Alex Magaisa, said the suspension of the by-elections was unconstitutional.

In a tweet, Magaisa said, “Critics warned that COVID19 would present an opportunity for dictators to mount an assault on democracy. Statutory Instrument 225A effectively banning by-elections in Zimbabwe is living proof of it. (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa is lifting restrictions in other areas, but not in elections.

“But the legality of this Statutory Instrument is doubtful. It seeks to amend not only the Electoral Act but also the Constitution. The Minister of Health does not have power to do that. Second, the SI (Statutory Instrument) cannot operate retrospectively as it seeks to do. It’s all very clumsy.”

Meanwhile, the state-controlled Herald newspaper reports that Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba, announced in an extraordinary gazette, the appointment of seven proportional representation parliamentarians, including MDC-T leader Khupe, who are expected to fill the vacancies of some recalled MDC Alliance lawmakers.

According to the newspaper, the other appointed proportional representation lawmakers are Yvonne Musarurwa, Moyo Lindani, Sawuke January, Munochinzwa Memory, Sibanda Lwazi, Mokone Sipho, and senators Tamani Moyo, Piniel Denga, Khaliphani Pugeni, Gertrude Moyo, Chief Ndlovu, Nomalanga Khumalo and Teti Chisorochengwe.

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