By Robert Tapfumaneyi
THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) acted unlawfully when it suspended the holding of all by-elections due to the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, legal watchdog, Veritas has said.
The legal think-tank argued that even if the suspension was legal, ZEC had illegally enforced it by not approaching the Electoral Court for the suspension to have a court-ordered backing and also informing concerned political parties.
In March, ZEC chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba announced the suspension of all electoral activities due to Covid-19.
“The chairperson announced, presumably with the approval of her fellow commissioners, but her announcement was not followed up with an official notice in the Gazette or a newspaper,” Veritas said.
“So far as we are aware, before announcing the suspension she did not consult all the political parties likely to be affected by it.
“What ZEC should have done, in our view, was to apply to the Electoral Court for an order declaring that in view of the Covid-19 epidemic, it would be lawful to suspend all electoral activity until the danger had passed.
“If ZEC had done that, the court could have clarified the legal position after giving all parties an opportunity to express their views.”
Chigumba issued her statement ahead of a scheduled by-election in Ward 16, Chiredzi Rural District Council that was set for 4 April. The by-election was immediately suspended.
However, Veritas argued there was nothing in the legal statutes that allowed authorities to suspend scheduled elections.
The Constitution states by-elections must take place within 90 days after a vacancy occurs unless it happens nine months before the holding of a general election.
“The section does not say that by-elections can be postponed beyond the 90-day limit, and there is no other provision in the Constitution that gives the power to postpone elections or by-elections,” Veritas said.
“In the case of by-elections to fill vacancies in local authority councils section 121A of the Act gives ZEC power to fix the dates, but again the section states that the dates must not be more than 90 days after the vacancies occurred.
“Although Section 132 of the Act allows ZEC to change the dates, ZEC cannot extend polling beyond the constitutionally fixed time-limit of 90 days.
“In any event, if ZEC does change the dates of a by-election under Section 132, it must give notice of the change in the Gazette and in a newspaper.
“ZEC has not given such notice of its decision to suspend all by-elections.”