Politics of election optics and beyond; plus the Western sanctions elixir in the mix

The past two weeks have seen Zimbabwe go back into the election season again, and the issues and dynamics so far have been interesting.

Expectedly. On March 26, Zimbabwe votes in by-elections that were triggered by the recall of opposition representatives at local government and parliamentary levels; as well as deaths of
incumbents.

Hundreds of positions are up for grabs.

This election will mean a lot of things too many people and political watchers will be looking closely at what has been dubbed a mini general election, and dry-run for the major, harmonized elections in 2023.


Zimbabwe holds general elections in five year cycles and they are termed “harmonized” because citizens simultaneously elect representatives at local government, parliamentary, gubernatorial and Presidential levels.
It is such a big thing.


This is why the current flash election season is being watched closely as people try to look for clues as to what may happen in 2023.


It’s enticing but potentially misleading, however, to use this election to predict 2023.


For me, the election of March 26 is for a more immediate albeit symbolic political purpose.


Settling the opposition question

The most important outcome of this election will be to settle the legitimacy question in the fractious opposition MDC family which split for the umpteenth time to give us the latest
twist involving the likes of Nelson Chamisa, Douglas Mwonzora, as key
protagonists.


The opposition MDC party was formed in 1999 led by Morgan Tsvangirai, born out of the then formidable labor movement under the banner of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions
where Tsvangirai had been a vibrant secretary general.


The MDC was the first party to seriously threaten the dominance of the ruling Zanu-PF party and posted impressive electoral showings, with the best coming in 2008, when it narrowly won the parliamentary and first round of Presidential elections, before a sham runoff that was later settled by a “unity” government.


But cracks had begun showing in the movement and party as early as 2005, when it recorded its first split with the splintering off of Welshman Ncube.


Over the years, the party has successively split and splintered. The death of Tsvangirai in February 2018, led to a major split in the leadership whose boomerang has now been pronounced in Nelson Chamisa long considered the heir apparent and Tsvangirai protégé – and Douglas
Mwonzora.


Mwonzora, a strategist and operator in the opposition who once was secretary general of MDC-T, successfully wrestled the name, title and properties of the party from Chamisa.


Chamisa, smarting from Mwonzora’s boardroom victories, recently decided to abandon everything to form his own party called Citizens Coalition for Change, a new outfit with new colors, symbolism but crucially a quintessential MDC by another name.


Mwonzora purged Chamisa’s loyalists from representative positions, triggering the by elections in dozens of constituencies.


The election has thus been a question of who wins between Mwonzora and Chamisa, to claim the legitimacy of the opposition.


It doesn’t take much to figure out who will.


Chamisa’s party will likely win the majority of the seats in urban areas, sweeping aside Mwonzora.


Chamisa will then assume the legitimacy and formal standing of opposition party, CCC.
Restoration and continuity of status quo: making sense of battle for optics


Chamisa’s winning of the legitimacy battle, which is all but guaranteed, is a funny development that restores and continues the status quo.


Post- March, Zimbabwe will be back to its old politics of Zanu-PF and the main opposition now clothed in CCC but widely seen as another MDC, an undead spirit that will likely endure for a while longer.


So, apart from seeking to banish Mwonzora, Chamisa has been keen to measure up to his real challenge, Zanu-PF and President Mnangagwa.


The battle for optics, characterizing frenzied comparison between Chamisa’s launch rally in Highfields last
week and similar Zanu-PF fixtures in Epworth and Marondera; and latterly the battle of Midlands this past weekend, all confirm the bigger plot.


The heavily polarized field is once again magnetic with tension. The old binaries are back.


However, this situation will likely not fundamentally alter the politics of Zimbabwe for the rest of the year.


Beyond that, in 2023, still certain fundamentals have to shift to produce something more drastic than
the maintenance of the status quo in which the ruling party will take advantage of its incumbency to secure a stay in power at the expense of the opposition.


But that has to be seen.


A year is a long time in politics!


Elixir of sanctions


Western countries imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe since 2001. The measures have been renewed since.


Only last week the EU renewed its set of sanctions and soon, perhaps within the next days, the United States will routinely renew the Executive Orders that enforce sanctions on Zimbabwe.


Sanctions more than just shake things up in Zimbabwe.


Sanctions are the greatest expression and weapon in the hands of Western countries as they seek to control the behavior of the Zimbabwe State and how it relates to the opposition and in general conduct affairs of governance.


Interestingly, the sanctions themselves mean different things to different people. Zanu-PF loathes them but uses them to its advantage.


The opposition, now CCC welcomes them, but are ill-served by them in the grander scheme of things.


Will sanctions make a difference in these elections? The answer is both “Yes” and “No”.


It really depends on how different role players see as the function of the measures

.
They act as a measure of containment to Zanu-PF, but again they remain a sort of political gift that keeps giving to the same Zanu-PF.


This underlines how and why the status quo will remain in Zimbabwe.


What to look out for in Zimbabwe


The next few weeks will be interesting because of the campaign’s that are likely to heat up.


Zimbabwe’s politics can be messy at times, and there is very little to suggest that certain things will happen that only but attests to the robustness and seriousness of the process and the passion that players are investing in the same.


There are real foreseeable risks that sporadic incidents of political violence may flare up when major political party’s supporters clash in townships.


•Want to discuss more? Email:
tichaona.zindoga@reviewandmail

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