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AN independent election watchdog has said the discord between the Health ministry and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) over pending by-elections is clear confirmation of confusion on who is in charge of the polls.

Zec chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba told diplomats a fortnight ago that the electoral body was ready to conduct by-elections, and was waiting for Vice-President and Health minister Constantino Chiwenga to lift his statutory instrument suspending the polls.

Chiwenga’s deputy John Mangwiro, however, last week said the ministry had nothing to do with elections.

“Worryingly, this discord is disturbing and a sure sign of policy inconsistency and confusion on who authorises or suspends the holding of by-elections. In turn, this affects the credibility of elections and is contrary to promoting democracy and relevant human rights,”

the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) said in a statement yesterday.

“The continued suspension of by-elections is non-compliant to regional and international instruments that govern the conduct of democratic elections that Zimbabwe is signatory to.”

There are 28 vacancies in Parliament and 105 in local government following the recall of MDC Alliance legislators and councillors by Douglas Mwonzora’s MDC-T.

Observers and election watchdogs have argued that suspending elections can never be an option whatsoever the circumstances, arguing that such a practice was an assault on democracy.

According to Zesn, there is no reason why elections remain suspended when large public gatherings are being allowed, citing a church gathering of the African Apostolic Church on October 23 in Harare South which attracted over 16 000 congregants.

Last week, Mnangagwa addressed a bussed crowd of thousands in Mwenezi, Masvingo province, on the anti-sanctions day as the number of oversubscribed political party gatherings continue to surge.

Last week, Zanu PF held a conference in Bindura, Mashonaland Central province, which was attended by over 250 delegates.

“This brings into question the sincerity of the continued suspension of by-elections on account of the protection of public health, especially as by-elections are due in only selected wards and constituencies where only local voters will participate and turnout is usually low in by-elections,” Zesn added.

Neighbouring South Africa, which has the highest COVID-19 deaths in Africa, held municipal elections on Monday. A number of countries have also held elections under the COVID-19 pandemic.

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