Tackling the by-elections conundrum

17 May, 2020 - 00:05 0 Views
Tackling the by-elections conundrum

The Sunday Mail

Lincoln Towindo

OUR Parliament is never short of drama.

Some have observed that the drama in our Parliament could easily be turned into a script for a blockbuster television drama series. The latest episode of this long-running drama centres on the recall of four MDC legislators from the National Assembly and Senate. Messrs Prosper Mutseyami (Dangamvura), Charlton Hwende (Kuwadzana East), Thabitha Khumalo (proportional representation) and Senator Lillian Timveous (Midlands) were ejected on the strength of the March 31 Supreme Court judgment.

The court, in its ruling, returned the party’s leadership to Dr Thokozani Khupe pending an extraordinary congress.

This effectively handed her control of all MDC deployees to Parliament.

The recalled legislators were elected to Parliament under the MDC-Alliance banner after being seconded to the opposition coalition by MDC-T. Needless to say, it has been a gripping fortnight of high drama for Parliament observers.

Acres of newspaper space have been consumed, not only to analyse the implications of this latest episode of Parliamentary drama but also to parade political machismo largely from the vanquished side.

The cyberspace is also awash with more or less the same. On its part, the Nelson Chamisa-led faction of the MDC-T has sought to project a siege mentality, blaming their misfortune on machinations by the ruling Zanu PF and a “captured” judiciary.

Conspiracy theories of how an elaborate plan to destroy the opposition party from within using proxies have been bandied about, garnering substantial buy-in from its support base. The faction’s deputy chairperson and St Mary’s legislator, Job Sikhala, was in militant mood in reaction to the ejection of his comrades. “All MDC-Alliance MPs will forthwith suspend all participation in Parliament and disengage from all platforms in which the party has to interact with ZANU PF pending consultations with the relevant constituencies of the party, that is, the electorate and Zimbabweans at large on the decision for a total withdrawal from Parliament,” came the salvo from Sikhala.

Reaction from the winning side has been more measured.

Douglas Mwonzora and Morgen Komichi have radiated political nous, calling for the respect of court processes and constitutionality.

ZANU PF, on the other hand, has maintained its distance. Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, who also doubles as the leader of Government Business in Parliament commented: “They are free to resign and by-elections will be conducted.”

It was, however, a tweet by Deputy Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Energy Mutodi, that elicited much disdain from the opposition.

The Deputy Minister appeared to suggest that the electoral code should be amended to allow for recalled Parliamentarians to be replaced by nominees from their party.

“Views from the masses indicate recalled MDC-T MPs must be replaced by nominees from their party,” tweeted Mutodi, tongue in cheek. “By-elections will plunge the nation into election mood (sic) prematurely and derail Government from focusing on economic recovery.” Section 158 (3) of the Constitution provides for the conduct of a by-election for a Parliamentary and local authority seat within 90 days after a vacancy occurs.

While Deputy Minister Mutodi’s invocation appears out of sync with the law in its current form, there are plenty of imperatives, both political and economic, to support his petition.

After all, MPs are deployees of their parties, which reserve the right to recall them once they stop representing their interests.

This right should extend to replacing the transgressing individuals, which is the standard in quite a number of jurisdictions.

It is, however, the timing of Deputy Minister Mutodi’s supplication that has left a bitter taste in some opposition mouths.

They charge that it smacks of opportunism.

But politics is by and large a game of opportunism, one that involves striking when your opposition is at its weakest.

Mr Chamisa’s faction has threatened to force through a mass resignation of all its MPs and trigger by-elections in no less than 40 constituencies.  The irony appears to be lost on them because results from by-elections held since 2018 show that it is ZANU PF in ascendency. ZANU PF has won most of the by-elections, including some in wards previously held by the opposition, while some in MDC strongholds have been close contests.

So what guarantee do they have that a mid-season snap election would give them a positive result? There is also an economic imperative to changing the laws around mid-season elections. The Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP), Government’s two-year economic plan, proposes the scrapping or harmonisation of by-elections because regular by-elections exert unnecessary budgetary pressure on Treasury.

In the TSP, Treasury proposes changes to the Constitution to allow for political parties to select replacements from within their ranks once a vacancy has occurred.

“The regular conduct of by-elections by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, in compliance with the constitutional provision, exerts budgetary and cash flow challenges,” reads the TSP in part.

“The Transitional Stabilisation Programme proposes amendment of the legislation to allow for either: the conduct of by-elections bi-annually resulting in the harmonisation of operations and costs; or instead of bi-annual elections, mandate political parties to select replacements, that way avoiding expenditures inherent in the processes of electing a new member.” Since the 2018 general polls, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has spent $7 million in conducting 27 by-elections.

So far, four National Assembly by-elections have been conducted while the rest have been for local authority seats. A total of 21 by-elections were conducted last year, while four local authority by-elections have already been conducted this year alone.

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