Zimbabwe election suspended after recall of opposition MPs

Zimbabwe election suspended after recall of opposition MPs
MDC headquarters in Harare.

In a move seen by many as a threat to democracy and the survival of opposition politics, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission suspended the holding of by-elections or any other electoral activities under Covid-19 regulations, amid a controversial recall of four opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance members from parliament.

The recall was instituted by one of the warring Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) factions, which is arguing that both the appointment as vice president and the subsequent rise of Nelson Chamisa as president of the MDC-T party was illegal and unconstitutional.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Commissioner Qubani Moyo told Daily Maverick:

“It is not true that our recent review suspending any electoral activities is designed to aid one of the MDC formations. During this phase of national lockdown, all electoral activities that require any outreach programmes for our staff remain suspended indefinitely.

“For the avoidance of doubt, ZEC has no side in their internal fights or any other political parties. Only those who try to find fault will create noise out of a purely administrative process,” said Moyo.

The MDC-A’s newly appointed spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere told Daily Maverick:

“We are concerned by ZEC’s unconstitutional decision to indefinitely suspend electoral activities because of Covid-19 without regard for the constitution and electoral laws.”

“ZEC acted unilaterally in deciding to issue an indefinite suspension of electoral activities without consulting political parties, civic society organisations and voters through public hearings”, said Mahere.

The MDC formations are fighting it out in the courts, arguing that Nelson Chamisa, who represented a coalition of eight political parties under the banner of MDC-A during the 2018 harmonised elections to which the MDC-T was party to, is not a legitimate leader. The harmonised ballot was, however, characterised by post-election violence.

The MDC formation led by former deputy president Thokozani Khupe won a legal battle in which the Supreme Court ordered her reinstatement as acting president of the MDC-T, leading the party’s secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora to recall four MDC-A members of parliament on the grounds that they had ceased representing the opposition MDC-T party’s interests.

Mwonzora said: “Honourable (Charlton) Hwende tweeted that he was no longer a member of the MDC-T. This is a statement we can never allow because it is both politically and factually incorrect.”

In a show of short-lived solidarity, the remaining MPs loyal to Chamisa vowed to boycott parliament only to return in a few days to attend parliamentary business.

Independent election watchdog, Zimbabwe Electoral Supervisory Network (ZESN), issued a statement saying:

“No consultations were done, so ZEC could have at least considered postponing, rather than suspending electoral activities. Engagement on whether or not to suspend electoral activities could have been done through virtual means, because the Covid-19 pandemic may be here to stay for much longer than we anticipate.”

Zimbabwe is currently under an indefinite Level 2 lockdown only to be reviewed subject to circumstances. Parliament has, however, been allowed to conduct public hearings in the coming week on Constitutional Amendment bill No 2 

ZEC Chief Elections Officer Utoile Silaigwana said:

“Our current position on the suspension of electoral activities was guided by his excellency President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 and as such we will conduct activities that do not violate lockdown measures.

“We will be looking at policy changes to accommodate post-filling just like what is done on proportional representations and senatorial positions,” said Silaigwana.

The four legislators who were recalled include Charlton Hwende Kuwadzana (East Constituency), Prosper Mutseyami (Dangamvura Chikanga), Thabitha Khumalo (Proportional representative Bulawayo) and Senator Lillian Timveous (Midlands).

One of the recalled MPs, Charlton Hwende, told Daily Maverick:

“I am the secretary-general of the MDC Alliance and never contested as MDC-T. I and others stand by President Nelson Chamisa. We will not be deterred by these antics by ZANU-PF to try and destroy the people’s party.”

Sections 158 (3) and 121 (a) of the constitution of Zimbabwe provide that the ZEC should conduct polling in by-elections to fill vacancies in Parliament and local authorities, including fixing the polling dates for local authority by-elections within nine days after the vacancies occur.  Further to that, Section 132 allows the ZEC to change without giving notice of its decision in the gazette and in the media beyond 90 days.

Speaker of Parliament, advocate Jacob Mudenda, said:

“Parliament is obligated to play an oversight role in the circumstances and accordingly the Standing Rules and Orders Committee has exercised its rights regarding the arrangements that would make it possible for Parliament to function with minimum disruption.”

The MDC has suffered countless splits since its formation and all splinters have claimed the brand name MDC — so much so that voters are confused as to which MDC formation it is they want. Some of the formations include MDC-T, MDC-99, MDC, MDC-A and MDC-N.

Even more confusing to voters is that all the formations use the same symbols, sometimes with very little or no difference. DM


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