Judge quizzes Mnangagwa, Chiwenga, ZEC lawyers over by-elections ban

HIGH Court Judge Justice Siyabona Musithu on Monday 24 May 2021
quizzed lawyers representing President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Health and Child Care Minister Constantino Chiwenga and Zimbabwe Electoral
Commission (ZEC) for their bureaucratic foot-dragging in not lifting
the indefinite suspension of by-elections.

Government in 2020 suspended the holding of by-elections with Chiwenga
issuing Statutory Instrument 225 of 2020 which indefinitely banned the
holding of all by-elections claiming that it was a precautionary
measure to contain the spread of coronavirus.

But Chiwenga’s ban of by-elections was challenged at the High Court on
13 October 2020 by Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political
Excellence (WALPE), Election Resource Centre (ERC) and six Harare and
Marondera residents namely Ellah Tayengwa, Moud Chinyerere, Agnes
Togarepi, Gracious Matsunga, David Gwanzura and Loice Gwangwara.

In the application filed by Tendai Biti of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human
Rights, WALPE, ERC, Tayengwa, Chinyerere, Togarepi, Matsunga, Gwanzura
and Gwangwara, who cited ZEC, Mnangagwa and Chiwenga as respondents,
argued that the suspension was a breach of the Electoral Act and the
Constitution as government should have held by-elections before 30
September 2020 to fill in vacancies in local authorities and in the
National Assembly.

On Monday 24 May 2021, Justice Musithu, who presided over the hearing
and determination of WALPE, ERC and Tayengwa, Chinyerere, Togarepi,
Matsunga, Gwanzura and Gwangwara’s application, quizzed Olivia Zvedi
and Tawanda Kanengoni, the lawyers representing President Mnangagwa,
Chiwenga and ZEC on why government was reluctant to hold by-elections
considering that it had eased national lockdown regulations including
opening schools and universities.

Justice Musithu also asked why government was averse to holding
by-elections and yet other countries such as Tanzania and the United
States of America had held polls recently.

The Judge also asked Zvedi and Kanengoni to give an indication on when
the indefinite suspension of by-elections would be lifted.

In his submissions, Biti argued that the motive of imposing a ban on
by-elections by government has nothing to do with curbing coronavirus
but is a suppression of democracy. He said government had suspended
the Constitution by not implementing its provisions such as holding
by-elections whereas other countries in Africa and beyond have held
polls and emphasised that all constitutional obligations must be
complied with diligently and without delay.

Zvedi argued that it is prudent for government to suspend by-elections
in order to conquer the spread of coronavirus since the risk of a
third wave of the pandemic was high. She also argued that section 86
of the Constitution provides for the limitation of rights hence
government had taken the right decision in suspending by-elections.

Kanengoni argued that holding by-elections at a time of the
coronavirus pandemic would curtail effective participation of the
electorate and said that ZEC could only conduct by-elections once
President Mnangagwa issues a proclamation.

Justice Musithu reserved ruling after hearing submissions by Biti,
Kanengoni and Zvedi and indicated that he needed more time to go
through all the submissions before handing down his verdict on the
application.