Tichaona Zindoga Political Editor
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairwoman Justice Priscilla Chigumba says ZEC cooperates with foreign election observers and missions, but does not take instructions from anybody because it is an independent constitutional entity.
She also said being a stickler for the law should not be interpreted as arrogance as she strives to guide the country towards historic harmonised elections on July 30.
In an interview with The Herald, Justice Chigumba said her view that elections could not be stopped once a proclamation had been made by the President was guided by a ruling of the Constitutional Court, not a personal opinion.
Justice Chigumba recently reacted firmly to suggestions to either stop elections or delay them pending demands made on ZEC by some opposition parties.
She said only a natural disaster such as an earthquake could stop the election after the President had proclaimed a date.
“As I have already said, not even the Government of Zimbabwe can direct or control ZEC to do anything or not do anything,” said Justice Chigumba.
“So, foreign observers or envoys cannot place us under their direction or control but we do have engagements with them, where they try and understand our electoral laws,” she said.
“We try and disseminate information saying in this jurisdiction this is what the law says with regards to such and such. We are not influenced by them although they are one of our vital stakeholders and we do have discussions with them,” she said.
Justice Chigumba also clarified that if individuals or political parties chose not to participate in electoral processes, that was not an offence under Zimbabwean law.
“I would like to say that our electoral laws are persuasive, they are not mandatory,” she said.
“For instance, let`s take registration to vote. We don’t have laws that compel Zimbabwean citizens to vote. In certain jurisdictions, if you do not register to vote within six months of turning 18, certain things will happen to you.
“We do not have laws that compel citizens to participate in the electoral processes. Similarly, if you register to vote and you decide not to vote on election day, we do not have laws that follow you to your house to come and say, ‘you are on the final voters’ roll, why didn’t you exercise your right to vote?’.
“The right to vote and the right to participate in electoral processes in Zimbabwe is voluntary. If I decide as the chairperson of ZEC to say I am not going to exercise my right to vote, I am allowed to make that decision and the law does not come to look for me to ask why I did not exercise my right,” said Justice Chigumba.
“It is actually my right to decide not to exercise my right to vote. I think I have answered your question without commenting directly on what other people may or may not have said. One is at liberty to exercise one`s right by deciding not to participate.”
Justice Chigumba was accused of arrogance after she used the earthquake metaphor, but she denied the charge in theinterview.
“I am not being arrogant when I am merely interpreting a judgment of the Constitutional Court. I may have paraphrased what the Chief Justice said but in essence, that was the ratio decidendi of that judgment from the Constitutional Court in dismissing that application by political parties which said ‘please stop the election because we need to do certain things’.
“The Chief Justice said once a proclamation has been made nothing can stop an election. It is there in that judgment. I was merely paraphrasing those words in a bid to advise stakeholders that whatever legal remedies you may have, stopping an election is not one of them.”