THE Zanu PF government is reportedly pushing to do away with by-elections and allow political parties to choose a replacement in the event a legislator is recalled from Parliament or dies, saying its coffers were empty, a move which critics said was designed to put MDC-T acting leader Thokozani Khupe and her supporters in Parliament through the back door.
Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi claimed last week that there was public sentiment to abolish by-elections soon after MDC-T recalled four MDC Alliance legislators from Parliament.
“Views from the masses indicate recalled MDC-T MPs must be replaced by nominees from their party.
By-elections will plunge the nation into election mood (sic) prematurely and derail government from focusing on economic recovery,” he posted on his Twitter handle.
Citing sources, our sister newspaper, The Standard, on Sunday reported that Khupe wants to be sworn in as an MP as soon as possible to pave way for her possible appointment as leader of opposition in the National Assembly, a position MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa snubbed following a bitterly fought 2018 presidential election.
Khupe got just 45 626 votes in the presidential polls, compared to 2 151 927 for her rival Chamisa and 2 456 010 for the eventual victor, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
But last month, the Supreme Court declared that Chamisa was illegitimate, appointed Khupe an interim leader and ordered the party to hold an extra-ordinary congress to replace him within three months.
But MDC Alliance leaders have rallied behind Chamisa, arguing that the leadership issue was settled when the party held a congress in Gweru last year.
Sources said moves were afoot to fast-track a law which gives parties the right of recall and to nominate a replacement without need for a by-election.
“A by-election in one constituency can take up to $2 million to run, now imagine if we are going to have by-elections in close to 50 constituencies in the event the MDC Alliance legislators, who have decided to boycott Parliament, are recalled? That would be over $100 million which could have been used to revive the economy,” a government official said.
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) chief elections officer Utoile Silaigwana said he was not aware of any moves to close out by-elections, saying legally, the position was that any vacancy that arose at council or House of Assembly level would be filled through a by-election.
“From the side of Zec, we have not made any such proposal. As it stands, any vacancy that arises will be filled in through a by-election and we are ready to fulfil our mandate. But, as you are aware, Zec has issued a statement that we have suspended the holding of by-elections because of the COVID-19,” Silaigwana said.
MDC Alliance wants by elections to settle the battle for legitimacy against Khupe and her camp after she recalled Alliance legislators Chalton Hwende (Kuwadzana East), chief whip Prosper Mutseyami (Chikanga-Dangamvura), Lillian Timveous (Midlands senator) and Tabitha Khumalo (Bulawayo proportional representation).
MDC Alliance deputy secretary general Jameson Timba said the party had disengaged from Parliament and begun consultations with structures.
“We are heading to a mass resignation of our parliamentarians and this will force us to a by-election, where the people will decide. We decided that as leaders we can’t impose our decisions on the people. They are the ones who elected us, so they should define our next step,” he said.
Last week, lawyer and political analyst Alex Magaisa said the chaos in the opposition party was being orchestrated by the ruling Zanu PF party, which he alleges wants to force through a government of national unity (GNU) with a weak opposition.
“The regime wants a GNU with a weak and submissive opposition it can control. They can tell the world that they are now working with the MDC,” he said.
With two-thirds majority in Parliament, Zanu PF would amend the law in order to get rid of by-elections, while a GNU agreement would include a constitutional amendment to avoid elections for seven years on the grounds of focusing on the economy, he said.
The seats held by MDC Alliance MPs who were recalled would be awarded to Khupe’s party to eliminate the risk of losing at the polls, he added.
If the by-elections are banned, Khupe and Mwonzora will have control of all parliamentarians from the MDC Alliance and will be able to put her own people in the National Assembly.