Why ZEC must hang its head in shame

Last week, National Assembly speaker Jacob Mudenda announced that the statutory instrument was yet to get the approval of the parliamentary legal committee (PLC), which cast more doubt on its legality.

It would be surprising if the PLC finds the statutory instrument to be constitutional because, as explained in the last Big Saturday Read, it contravenes several provisions of the constitution.

The PLC is a committee of MPs that has the constitutional duty to scrutinise all legislation before it is passed by Parliament.

The functions of the PLC are set out in section 152 of the constitution, which requires it to examine a statutory instrument to determine its constitutionality.

Section 134(f) requires all statutory instruments to be laid before the National Assembly following its standing orders.

It requires them to be submitted to the parliamentary legal committee for examination. This is what Mudenda was referring to.

Zanu PF itself had flagrantly disregarded the suspension of by-elections because it went ahead with primary elections in various constituencies.

These primary elections are designed to select candidates for the by-elections, which the government it leads has purportedly suspended.

If anything, the statutory instrument was a piece of gamesmanship, designed to lull the opposition into believing there were no by-elections while Zanu PF was busy preparing for the same.

Thankfully, the genuine opposition saw through it and went ahead with its own primaries.

It was only the judicially constructed MDC-T, which has no appetite for competitive elections that welcomed and accepted the illegal suspension of by-elections.

Nevertheless, the episode exposed the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for its malleability in favour of regime directives.

As the political referee, ZEC is supposed to be independent of political influence. It should not be directed by anyone.

It should stand firm and defend its mandate as the body responsible for running elections.

It should be insisting to the government what the constitution and Electoral Law require.

An independent body exercising its mind professionally would have told the government that SI225/20 was illegal, whatever the other considerations that the government had in mind.

Yet ZEC offered no resistance whatsoever.

It feebly succumbed to the directions from the Minister of Health and Child Care.

Regrettably, ZEC lacks the mettle to defend its autonomy.

ZEC had already shown that it was preparing to hold Covid-19-compliant by-elections.

It knows that many other countries have readjusted their electoral systems to be Covid-19 compliant.

ZEC had taken similar steps.

But as soon as the Health Minister announced his decree, ZEC promptly changed its tune and began to defend the suspension of by-elections.

With such a timid and malleable political referee that can bend to the government’s will, prospects of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe remain extremely slim and even that is a generous assessment.

Those who run ZEC do not have confidence in their mandate.

They seem to believe that they operate under the direction of the government.

ZEC chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba is making Mudenda look like a constitutional law star.

She gave in too soon before she considered the illegalities of SI225/20, which is her mandate.

Speaking of independent and impartial referees, one of the appointments at the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission is a serious cause for concern for the apparent conflict it presents and the ominous signs it represents.

If the farmer entrusts a troop of baboons to look after his maize field, he is unlikely to yield anything at the end of the season.

Angeline Guvamombe is a former officer commanding ZRP Support Unit, also known as the riot police.

The other colloquial name for that unit is Black Boots, on account of their distinctive footwear.

Members of this unit are not known for their peaceful disposition.

They are notorious for using excessive force upon citizens, which they do with palpable zeal and enthusiasm.
They are violent and trigger happy.

The unit has been involved in rampant human rights violations during demonstrations.

It is fair to say their conduct does not suggest any serious investment in human rights education and it is a reflection of the unit’s leadership.

One of the key findings of the Motlanthe Commission, which was set up after the 2018 elections was that six civilians had been shot and killed by members of the military or police.

These were serious human rights violations, but not a single soldier or police officer has been held accountable.

None of the commanders had been held to account. Now, a former boss of the police unit which was involved in these violent and murderous incidents has been appointed to the board of commissioners of the Human Rights Commission.

It is like appointing a hyena to look after the interests of goats. The conflict of interest could not be starker.

This is not to say former police officers are precluded from taking public roles beyond their retirement.

They can and sometimes their investigative skills might be useful.

However, good practice would require a “cooling off” period between leaving their role in the security sector and taking up public office.

Therefore, one can jump from one institution which has a poor record of human rights violations into a role that is supposed to safeguard human rights.

 

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