Wednesday, 27 May 2015

By-Elections and Abuse of the Zimbabwean Constitution by Political Parties

Position Paper 1

Issued 27 May 2015

1.  The Committee of the Peoples Charter (CPC) has noted with great misgiving the development of a culture of abusing Section 129 (1k) of the new constitution as it relates to by-elections for Members of Parliament.  This section states that the seat of a Member of Parliament may become vacant if;

“ the Member has ceased to belong to the political party of which he or she was a member when elected to Parliament and the political party concerned, by written notice to the Speaker or the President of the Senate, as the case may be, has declared that the member has ceased to do so’

It is this section that has occasioned at least 19 constituency by-elections in Zimbabwe thus far into the tenure of this current Parliament. 

1.2 While the CPC holds no brief for political parties it is important that given the context of political party factionalism in both opposition and ruling parties be these unfortunate political developments be placed and analysed through social democratic lenses and national context.

In a constituency based and largely ‘first past the post’ system such as ours ‘by-elections’ are democratic processes that would usually occur in the event of the resignation or death of a sitting Member of Parliament.

1.3 In terms of the same Section 129 of the new constitution, by-elections can also occur where a sitting Member of Parliament: 

ü  ceases to be a registered voter,

ü  is absent without leave for 21 consecutive days from either house

ü  becomes president or vice president of the country;

ü  becomes a Speaker or President of the National Assembly and Senate respectively 

ü  is convicted of a criminal offence

ü  is declared insolvent

ü  takes up other public office roles (parastatals, provincial councils)

1.4 Some of these provisions have been used sparingly in the current tenure of the current Parliament.  Examples include the passing away of members of Parliament, the appointment of one Member of Parliament to the post of vice president and the removal of another from the same post after the 2013 harmonised general election.

They have however been utilized with at an alarmingly disproportionate rate to the above cited examples where and when it applies with subsection (k) in relation to political parties writing letters to the speaker or president of the senate. 

It is a development that has led to the holding of at least 19 by elections for constituency members of the National Assembly and the Senate.  It has also affected proportional representation members of both houses.

1.5 The CPC views these developments as cases of abuse of the constitution by political parties that are still represented in Parliament.  At an estimated cost of US$36 million as given by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), these by-elections are not only an unnecessary drain on meagre resources that the country does not have but are an inherent abuse of state resources to essentially settle internal and personal scores as they derive from leaders of political parties. 

1.6 These resources can and could have been used to refurbish dilapidated public infrastructure, provide desperately needed medicines or at the very least contributed to the payment of the Basic Education Assistance Model (BEAM) deficits that are affecting disadvantaged school children. 

1.7 Furthermore, the lack of absolute necessity of these elections caused by factionalism in political parties has essentially led to the country being in perpetual election mode for parliamentary seats that do not affect the nature or effect of executive authority in Zimbabwe.

This is to say, they have no direct bearing or cliff-hanger effect on the composition of Parliament or the structure of government.  They serve more to reconfigure internal party politics than the public democratic interest. 

1.8 For political parties to continue to subject voters to elections that are not based on democratic principles but a positivist reading of the law to serve their internal problems point to the sad reality that political party constitutions and internal processes are what really matter in Parliament.  This as opposed to the functions of the legislature as outlined in Chapter 6 (Part 6) of the constitution.

1.9  While all Zimbabweans have the right to associate and vote for leaders of their choice, it would be a sad day for the future of our continually struggling democracy  if political parties treated the people and the electorate as canon- fodder every time internal party disputes arise.

2.0 It is therefore the firm view of the CPC that while these by-elections may be permissible at law, they are however evidence of an undemocratic culture of entitlement by political parties, especially where this is done through attempting to solve internal party disputes via national institutions and processes at great economic and democratic cost to the country. 

Issued by the CPC Information Department

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