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Zimbabwe’s opposition cries foul after government suspends by-elections

Tatenda Chitagu

HARARE—Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, the MDC Alliance, loyal to youthful opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, has accused the government of double standards following it’s decision to suspend by-elections. The opposition sees the move as an efforts to stifle it while pivoting another splinter MDC-T party loyal to Thokozani Khupe to hold an elective congress in November.

The by-elections penciled for December 5, 2020 were cancelled as the government seeks to restrict gathering in a bid to curb the spread COVID-19.

Vice president, retired army general Constantine Chiwenga, who also doubles as the Health Minister, announced last week that by elections to fill in vacancies of Chamisa’s legislators and councilors recalled by Khupe following a controversial Supreme Court ruling blessing the latter as the legitimate leader of the opposition party were suspended due to COVID 19 regulations banning mass gatherings.

Chiwenga amended Statutory Instrument 225A of 2020, Public Health COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 (No 4), effectively calling off the by-elections.

“It is hereby notified that the Minister of Health has, in terms of section 68 of the Public Health Act made the following regulations … these regulations may be cited as the Public Health COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment (Amendment) Regulations 2020,” the notification read in part.

“Pursuant to subsection (2), 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 Supreme Court ruling opened floodgates for the purging of Chamisa loyalists of Khupe-with 32 parliamentary and 165 council seats being declared vacant, according to the country’s constitution.

Chief among the casualties include one of Chamisa’s Vice Presidents, Lynette Karenyi-Kore and Harare’s mayor, Herbert Gomba, as well as his organizing secretary Amos Chibaya.

Meanwhile, the country’s elections management body, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, (ZEC) announced in a Government Gazette the filling of 15 seats by MDC-T interim leader Thokozani Khupe and her loyalists.

Khupe has effectively made a comeback in parliament and was sworn in Wednesday-despite a High Court interdict blocking the move-and assumed the role of leader of opposition in the house.

The Supreme Court recently cleared her party to hold the extra-ordinary congress on or before November 30, extending it from a July deadline which could not be met due to the COVID 19 regulations.

While Chamisa has been given a gut-punch by the Supreme Court after his controversial elevation to the party president following the death of MDC founding president, Morgan Tsvangirai in February 2018, who remains popular on the ground.

The ruling gave Chamisa more sympathy among Zimbabweans, while projecting Khupe as a saboteur being used by the ruling party to decimate any meaningful opposition.

Chamisa and Khupe contested under different name tags in the 2018 elections-with the latter using the MDC-T moniker. Khupe garnered a paltry 45 000 votes countrywide, while Chamisa polled 2,1 million votes.

Following the razor thin margin win by Mnangagwa with 2.4 million votes, as well as irregularities cited by independent observers, Chamisa alleged he was rigged and took the matter to the Constitutional Court, which however upheld Mnangagwa’s win.

‘What is good for the goose should be good the gander,” said independent political analyst, Masimba Gonese adding; ‘What is more risky for COVID 19 transmission, by-elections where the people are mainly from the same ward and constituency-than a party congress of thousands of people who come from different corners of the world?”

Gonese questioned the suspension of the by-elections at a time when Khupe has been ‘smuggled’ back into parliament.

“Khupe, who stood in the elections and lost, while her party only got two seats in parliament, has been smuggled back into the August House! Talk of bending the rules. It’s a reversal of the voters’ wishes,” said Gonese.

Chamisa described the suspension of by-elections, as well as the return of Khupe to parliament, as ‘a fraud’, unconstitutional and should be rejected by the people of Zimbabwe.

“We have people who are in government out of a criminal conduct and fraud and they can only continue to be in government through fraud. Their foundation and framework is fraudulent and we cannot allow that to continue,” he said.

MDC Alliance deputy spokesperson Clifford Hlatywayo accused government of arm-twisting the COVID-19 regulations to suit their agenda.

“This was a well-orchestrated move by ZANU PF working in cahoots with the rebels (MDC-T) to unconstitutionally recall our elected officials, and yet suspend by-elections. What has happened now is a demonstration of Zanu PF capture of State institutions,” he said.

However, Mnangagwa defended Chiwenga’s move, saying the voters  would walk on dead bodies to polling stations.

“I would like to urge us to continue observing the laid down Covid-19 lockdown measures. The novel coronavirus is still with us. We must not allow complacency to trigger a relapse. We value life above all else. Voting and democracy are enjoyed by the living not by the sick, dying or the dead,” he said at the burial of national hero, the late Ruphus Chigudu this week.

MDC-T acting national chairman Morgen Komichi weighed in: “As responsible leadership, we cannot go against the pandemic like that. We leave to the authorities to guide us. Though we need by-elections as a matter of urgency, let us wait until we have a favorable environment for people to freely campaign and vote.”

As of Thursday, October 8, Zimbabwe had recorded 7 898 confirmed cases, 6 424 recoveries and 228 deaths according to statistics from the Health ministry.

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