Clamour for reforms puts Zimbabwe polls in doubt

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By Kitsepile Nyathi, The East African

HARARE – Less than four months to the end of Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangawa’s first term, the date for the southern African country’s next elections is still a mystery amid calls for electoral reforms.

Constitutionally, the terms of office for elected officials, including for President Mnangagwa, end in August.

On Monday, the Constitutional Court dismissed on a technicality an application by Douglas Mwonzora, leader of the MDC-T opposition party, who wanted drawing of electoral boundaries declared unconstitutional.

Mr Mwonzora also wanted the court to postpone the elections until the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the country’s independent polls management body, does a fresh delimitation of constituencies.

The opposition leader is now expected to take his case to the High Court as directed by the Constitutional court, adding more uncertainty to the anticipated polls. Election watchdogs say the confusion over election day is complicating an electoral process that has already been marred by lack of reforms and closure of the democratic space with another disputed poll now more likely.

The Election Resource Centre (ERC), a leading think tank and advocacy organisation on electoral and democracy issues in Zimbabwe, said the increased calls for suspension of the 2023 elections were worrying.

“Elections are central to Zimbabwe’s democracy,” ERC said.

“Through elections, the fundamental right of every citizen to political participation is realised and elections guarantee the philosophical-political principle of democracy.

“Suspending elections would be a clear violation of the rights of Zimbabweans to participate in the democratic process and would be a step away from democratic accountability and has the potential to lead to political instability.”

Veritas, a legal think tank that provides information on the work of parliament of Zimbabwe, said the country’s elections cannot be delayed beyond August 26. “President Mnangagwa was sworn in for his current term on the 26th of August 2018, Parliament’s five-year term will end five years later on the August 26, 2023,” Veritas said in a bulletin on the possible dates for the 2023 General Election.

“Polling day in the 2023 election must not be more than 30 days before that, i.e., no earlier than the 27th of July 2023, hence polling day in this year’s General Election must be between 27th July and 28th August.”

The ERC said the push for the suspension of the polls was a threat to Zimbabwe’s constitutional democracy.

“Should the elections get suspended, this could lead Zimbabwe to a legal lacuna as there is no extension provision (in the constitution) regarding terms of office,” the think tank added.

“The constitution makes it clear that power should be acquired only through a periodic election conducted every five years, and the term of office of elected government officers is strictly five years.

There is no legal basis that will allow the current government to legitimately remain in power past August 26, 2023, therefore any proposed suspension of the 2023 harmonised elections poses a threat to Zimbabwe’s democracy.’’

Mr Mwonzora, who described the Constitutional court judgement as political, said Zimbabwe was not in a position to hold free and fair elections because the process to create new electoral boundaries was flawed.

We want free and fair elections in Zimbabwe and there can never be free and fair elections where the delimitation report is so fundamentally flawed,” he said. “This is a recipe for disaster for our country. It makes our country a laughingstock; it makes our country’s reputation as a constitutional democracy go up in the winds.

“We do not accept that judgement. We have received legal advice and the matter is not stopping here and we are going to continue with our struggle for democracy.

“We are fortified that we are right, and we are not going to give up.”

President Mnangagwa, who rose to power after a coup against long time ruler Robert Mugabe in 2017, will once again face-off with Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) leader Nelson Chamisa.