No by-elections anytime soon: Chiwenga

Vice President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga

VICE-PRESIDENT and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga has vowed that by-elections will not take place anytime soon during the COVID-19 pandemic period despite health officials saying polls were possible.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently issued a statement saying that it was safe to conduct elections.

In his opposing affidavit in response to a High Court application by the Election Resource Centre (ERC), the Women’s Academy for Leadership (Walpe) and six other applicants, Chiwenga claimed that banning by-elections would save lives.

This is despite other countries successfully holding elections in spite of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ironically President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week rushed to Tanzania to observe the inauguration of President John Magufuli who was elected in last week’s highly-contested polls.

Other countries like Malawi have also held presidential elections during the COVID-19 era.

In the High Court application, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) is cited as the first respondent while Mnangagwa is the second respondent.

“There is, therefore, already an existing considerable risk of a conflagration in the spread of the pandemic due to the laxity which has developed among the population. It is as if the pandemic has ceased to exist,” Chiwenga said.

“As such, any additional restrictive measure to curb the increase of the risk of infection is essential to protect the population,” he said, adding that infections could spiral out of control “to an extent where they can become unmanageable and overwhelm the country’s medical resources”.

Chiwenga said Zimbabwe could not blindly follow what other countries were doing by holding elections during the COVID-19 period.

“It is up to Zimbabwe to take such measures to safeguard its people and it cannot do that blindly following what other countries are doing.

“Some countries in Europe, for instance, went overboard with relaxations, now they are hastily re-introducing the stringent measures which they had before. Now they are reaping the fruits of having opened up too much and having failed to exercise caution, we do not want our country to get into that same situation.”

Chiwenga continued: “It should be noted that while WHO guidelines permit the holding of elections, they require that they should be held in circumstances where the risk of the spread of the pandemic is minimal or minimised.

But Chiwenga said: “With the kind of medical resources available to us, we cannot afford to have a situation such as is taking place in the United States. The numbers of infections and deaths in Zimbabwe may presently be low when compared to the statistics of other countries. This, however, is no justification for holding by-elections which may result in a spike in those numbers, leading to unnecessary suffering or deaths. Government would be irresponsible if it were to allow that to happen.”

Chiwenga then cited the Constitution, saying it clearly states that everyone has a right to life, adding that “there is no need for even one life to be lost simply because we want to hold elections”.

He also said Zec’s functions were not prescribed as an essential service under lockdown legislation and the COVID-19 regulations, hence elections could not be called.

He denied that his move was unconstitutional, saying: “I deny that SI 225A of 2020 is ultra vires section 68 of the Public Health Act or sections 158 and 159 of the Constitution. I further deny that in enacting SI 225A of 2020, I suspended the operation of the Constitution, or acted above, or in conflict with, the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

“I also deny that the regulation contained in SI 225A 2020 are grossly irrational and unreasonable and in support of my denial. I wish to make it clear that I enacted SI 225A of 2020 after taking expert legal advice from officials in my ministry.”

Chiwenga said he had observed that Zimbabweans were no longer wearing masks and observing social distancing at public places.