Electoral Bill: analysts slam Cabinet decision

Cabinet's decision to ban public hearings on three crucial Bills that form the bulwark of the envisaged political reforms prior to free and fair elections, has drawn fire from electoral watchdogs and critics.

Cabinet two weeks ago ordered Parliament to stop public hearings on the proposed Electoral Amendment Bill.

The ban came as the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs was putting final preparations for public hearings on the Electoral Amendment Bill.

Critics say the ban reflects blatant disregard for the doctrine of separation of powers by the executive. MDC chief whip Innocent Gonese says the directive undermines Zimbabwe's parliamentary democracy.

Cabinet claims it is a security measure expected to forestall more violence after the eruption of chaos in Parliament during public hearings on the Human Rights Commission Bill.

Cabinet and Parliament appear to be headed for a showdown, with the chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Douglas Mwonzora, adamantly declaring that Parliament would never be forced to abandon the hearings.

"We will be announcing the dates soon," Mwonzora declared. The Election Resource Centre, an advocate for electoral democracy, said it was "deeply concerned" by the Cabinet’s decision.

"The ERC views the Cabinet’s order as a further attempt by political parties to railroad selfish party positions against the will of the people," ERC said in a statement.

"The action by cabinet also puts into jeopardy the cherished notion of separation of powers in a democratic government. It is internationally acceptable that the judiciary, the legislature and the executive must exercise their constitutionally enshrined mandates without interference on each other`s duties. The apparent interference by cabinet on parliamentary business militates against the virtues of transparency and accountability which contribute to free and fair electoral conduct."

Rindai Chipfunde-Vava, executive director of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, said the decision was supposed to come from the people and not from Cabinet. "That’s how it works in a democracy," she said.

Zanu (PF) chief whip Joram Gumbo said Zimbabweans must reconcile with the fact that the country is polarised at the moment and such gatherings risk igniting violence. "It’s for security reasons," he said.

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