United States urges Zimbabwe to lift ban on by-elections, rallies voters to register

HARARE – The United States urged Zimbabwe on Thursday to hold by-elections to fill dozens of vacant parliamentary and municipal seats.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government banned elections since early last year, citing Covid-19, but critics say the 79-year-old is using the pandemic to stifle democracy while propping up the MDC-T party, a Zanu PF proxy responsible for recalling tens of elected MDC Alliance representatives, creating the vacancies.

In a series of tweets, the United States embassy in Harare not only urged Zimbabweans to register to vote but also queried the official narrative which has seen political rallies and protests banned, while elections are indefinitely postponed.

“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 wrote on Twitter.

Using the hashtags #ZimsSafeToVote #ZimVotesMatter, it added: “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.”

On Wednesday, the embassy tweeted encouragement for Zimbabweans to vote.

It said: “Voter registration numbers will help define electoral boundaries in the delimitation process. Ensure complete representation for your community! Register to vote today! Your vote is your right! Register to vote at ZEC’s provincial and district offices today.”

Government spokesman Ndavaningi Mangwana appeared to take umbrage with the embassy call for by-elections to be held, tweeting in response: “Surely, the US Embassy knows where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located. Should there be a need for a conversation on this subject, you can easily engage them and get a briefing. These highly inflammatory tweets are as much disrespectful as they are unnecessary.”

Backed by Zanu PF and a judiciary which Mnangagwa’s critics say is “captured”, the MDC-T party led by Douglas Mwonzora has laid claim to MDC Alliance councillors, MPs and Senators. Over 60 councillors who defied Mwonzora have been recalled, while more than two dozen MPs and senators, including the former finance minister Tendai Biti, have also been expelled from parliament.

The MDC Alliance is confident of recapturing the seats, while Mwonzora is reported to have recently begged Mnangagwa to extend the ban on elections, calling them “divisive.”

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which would hold the elections, has said it is bound by a public emergency law decreed by the government at the start of the pandemic banning elections.

Zimbabwe’s Covid-19 infections and deaths have fallen sharply, increasing demands for the government to surrender back freedoms suspended using emergency powers.