THE Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) temporarily closed all its offices until August 8 to contain the spread of COVID-19, a move which Civil Society Organizations say will greatly affect the voter registration process which has been facing a number of challenges.
This comes at a time when the nation braces the delimitation exercise set for August 2022 which may see Provinces losing a number of Constituencies due to low voter registration figures.
Despite the closure of offices, voter registration had been slowed down due to centralization of ZEC offices which left many without access.
In a statement, ZEC Chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba said: “This is a mitigatory measure to contain the further spread of the virus among our internal and external stakeholders. During this period, all staff members will be working remotely from their homes, except in instances of critical issues that would require access to the offices. The Commission encourages its stakeholders to observe the national COVID-19 guidelines, World Health Organisation guidelines and ZEC COVID-19 policy during the break.”
In response to the closure, Elections Resource Centre (ERC) Programmes Officer, Ms Rudo Motsi said although the move was welcome due to the surging COVID-19 cases, ZEC was supposed to consult stakeholders on a possible way forward.
“ERC, noting the surging cases of COVID-19 welcomes the notice with encouragement to ZEC to strengthen its engagements with stakeholders in times of the pandemic as replicated by other regional electoral commissions. We would also like remind the Commission to extensively consult with stakeholders in light of major electoral activities like voter registration, the delimitation exercise and the yet to be announced by-elections,” said Ms Motsi.
She also urged ZEC to seek a court order to postpone electoral activities.
“Further postponing electoral activities with press statements does not inspire confidence from electoral stakeholders and we hope that in the future ZEC will consult stakeholders,” she added.
Zimbabwe Elections Support Network (ZESN) Field officer, Mr Ndodana Ndhlovu said ZEC should also consider extending the dates for voter registration to make up for lost time due to COVID-19.
“We have been hearing that ZEC offices are temporarily closed but will be open for critical cases. It has not been clarified on which cases fall under this category but this closure is a major blow on the voter registration process as we were already engaging residents to go and register to vote,” said Mr Ndhlovu.
“We cannot take chances with COVID-19 and at the same time we pray that ZEC will up the game by extending the services and ensuring people can easily access their offices once they resume voter registration,” he added.
For Ms Bekezela Tshuma, a Bulawayo resident, the closure of ZEC offices was just a formality as residents had always failed to access the office even before closure.
She said the Commission should consider decentralizing its offices so that people can register to vote even during COVID-19 lockdown.
“We have always been shut out from accessing ZEC offices so to announce they are closing was just a formality. We have failed to access its offices and hopefully when they decide to open, they will consider coming to the people as we cannot use our hard-earned cash commuting to their only office in Famona,” said Ms Tshuma.
Commenting in Parliament recently, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the country was sticking to the suspension of by-elections due to COVID-19.
He said polls would only take place upon achievement of the vaccination targets which have been set at 10 million for Zimbabwe to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19.
“You do not vote when you are dead, you do not exercise your democratic rights when you are dead,” he told legislators.
“I believe that all things being equal, once we have reached herd immunity, we are going to vote. So, for now, we stick to the laws that are there.”
As at Wednesday, 28 July 2021 Zimbabwe had recorded 103 567 COVID-19 cases including 71 383 recoveries and 3 340 deaths.
So far, only 1 562 285 people have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine against a December target of 10 million while 713 131 have received their second dose countrywide.
Of the 1 562 285 people, 153 937 are from Bulawayo, 110 680 from Matabeleland North and 77 823 from Matabeland South.
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