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Southern Africa: SADC Developing Election Observation Guidelines

The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) is developing election observation guidelines in the face of Covid-19 to address the potential risk of spreading the virus during elections.

This comes at a time Zimbabwe is facing a major electoral crisis after Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga last month issued Statutory Instrument 225A of 2020, indefinitely suspending elections citing the Covid-19 scare.

The move was immediately condemned as unconstitutional and civil society organisations have since lodged an application at the High Court challenging the decision.

Interestingly, Zanu PF has not suspended the holding of its inter-party elections and has continued with its nationwide restructuring exercise which attracts huge gatherings exceeding the limit of 50 people put in place by government.

The country was headed for December by-elections following the recall of 31 MDC Alliance members of parliament and councillors by the Thokozani Khupe led MDC-T. While the government insists on an election ban, Sadc guidelines are envisaged to provide elaborate mitigation measures and steps on how to manage and observe elections amidst pandemics with relative safety.

“The Sadc region has noted that the Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges on politics and governance which required the development of customised mitigation measures to address not only the Covid-specific imperatives but also more broadly, the effects of other such pandemics on the region’s efforts to consolidate democracy in line with the provisions of the Sadc Treaty (1992) and the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation,” the Sadc secretariat said in a statement.

“The draft guidelines were considered by the Ministerial Committee of the Organ (MCO) during its extraordinary virtual meeting held on September, 15 2020” the further reads.

In reaction to the suspension of elections by Chiwenga, observers and election watchdogs argue suspending elections could never be an option whatsoever the circumstances, as they warned it is an assault on democracy.

“The Guidelines are expected to strengthen the interventions by the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation in respect of disaster preparedness, disaster risk reduction and management, and strategic responses to pandemics in line with the relevant provisions of the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation of 2001,” statement says.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn) have argued a number of countries such as Malawi have held elections amid Covid-19 as it called for engagement on the issue to ensure democracy is not quarantined in Zimbabwe. Other countries such as Tanzania and America are also set to hold elections despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

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