Gloves are off: US embassy now directly involved in Zimbabwean opposition politics

Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas R. Hastings to Zimbabwe. (Image Source: Facebook)

THE United States (US) continues to take a firm stand against Harare’s delay in holding by-elections, reiterating President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration should respect the Constitution and should urgently conduct outstanding local council and parliamentary by-elections.

Mnangagwa last year ordered the suspension of all by-elections as part of measures to control the spread of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

At least 80 local council and 40 parliamentary by-elections are outstanding across the country.

Most of the seats are vacant after opposition MDC MPs were recalled by rival party president, Douglas Mwonzora who argued the public officials were no longer party members.

However, Acting US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Thomas Hastings reiterated his country’s position that Harare should to respect the Constitution and hold all outstanding by-elections.

The top diplomat was addressing journalists soon after touring the Organisation for Public Health Interventions and Development (OPHID) facility at the Princess Margaret Health Clinic in Bulawayo’s city centre last Friday.

Hastings said it was possible for Zimbabwe to hold by-elections and also observe Covid-19 regulations like what happened in Malawi, the US in 2020, and recently in neighbouring Zambia.

“The Constitution of Zimbabwe says there should be by-elections when there are vacancies. I know under Covid-19, there have to be considerations for safety but many countries in the world including our own have managed to hold elections safely even during Covid,” he said.

“Zimbabwe has done so well with (its) vaccination (programme) compared to the rest of Africa and has one of the highest vaccination coverage rates in Africa.

“I am confident that by-elections can be held safely here in Zimbabwe as well,” Hastings, who is also Charge d’ Affaires at the local US embassy, said.

He added the right to vote was important in unlocking the citizens’ basic rights.

“I believe in one of the tweets we had a quote from our Vice President Kamala Harris which said the right to vote is the right which unlocks all the rights.”

Last week, the US Embassy in Harare drew the ire of the government and Zanu PF after mentioning over 750 000 citizens in 26 constituencies were without elected local council or parliamentary representation due to the delays in holding by-elections.

“When will the Zimbabwean government resume by-elections? Long-standing parliamentary vacancies have left over 754,000 voters in 26 constituencies without elected representation. Only by-elections will restore these citizens’ rights to representation,” the embassy said.

“Many countries have held elections despite the pandemic, including Zambia, South Africa, Malawi, and the United States, demonstrating that Covid-safe elections are possible. We are confident Zimbabwe can do the same.”

However, in response, to the US calls, the Zanu PF information director Tafadzwa Mugwadi said: “We will do it the Taliban way! Stay far from our lane or the consequences will be humiliating the Taliban style.”

Recently, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) called on the government to consider targeted Covid-19 vaccination programmes in vacant constituencies to pave way for the holding of the pending by-elections.

Meanwhile, Hastings has applauded the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for resuming the voter registration process following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

“We applaud ZEC for its efforts at the voter registration process and also for beginning the census and delimitation processes. This is something that we feel very strongly about.

“We feel democracy is very important. We feel that voter registration is, of course, a key piece to having good elections so this is why we are pleased to see voter registration underway here, and yes we encourage Zimbabweans to take part in the voter registration” Hastings said. – Newzim

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