Briefing: Zim can have peaceful elections

Tichaona Zindoga

Zimbabwe will hold by-elections in about 10 days, involving hundreds  of candidates for Parliamentary and council offices.

The March 26 by-elections were mostly triggered by recalls of representatives that ran under the banner of MDC-T but fell foul of internal politics when Douglas Mwonzora muscled out Nelson Chamisa, before the latter formed his own party Citizens Coalition for Change recently.

A few deaths also robbed us of some compatriots who had been elected during the 2018 elections.

The by-elections were delayed over a period of nearly two years, hence the wholesale by-election.

I maintain that while so much is at stake for national politics, the by-elections are much more significant as an opposition referendum.

It is in this mini-election that we will see who the “real” opposition is; that is, who between Mwonzora and Chamisa commands more support. Many observers think that this is a foregone conclusion: Chamisa will win by a mile and Mwonzora will be extremely lucky to win even a single seat.

Zanu-PF will be looking to retain seats in its rural strongholds where it lost incumbents, and perhaps eye one or two urban ones as a tonic.

The real interest of the ruling party will be to test how much it can perform in urban strongholds that are likely to be swept away by Chamisa and his yellow movement.

Zanu-PF will not begrudge that, either.

Essentially, after the by-election it’s back to the status quo of the ruling Zanu-PF and the main opposition  – with all its legitimacy – setting off preparations for the next big one in 2023.

Peaceful elections

Zimbabwe can, and should hold peaceful elections. These by-elections can be peaceful.

They will be largely peaceful.

Recent events, especially the Kwekwe violence that left one person dead are likely not to repeat themselves, or grow worse as the country nears March 26 and beyond. There are several reasons why I make the prediction that peace is likely to prevail, except in a few pockects.

Before that, it needs highlighting that the Kwekwe case was a consequence of a number of factors, including the heat generated by the launch of the CCC and it’s desire to make a thunderous entry onto the political arena. Listening to the rhetoric from CCC leaders and supporters – and the dutiful combativeness of the other side – it was clear that the birth of a new political outfit would be less than messy.

Another factor that tended to raise political temperatures is the routine renewal of sanctions against Zimbabwe by Western countries.

Those who have looked into the Zimbabwe well enough know that the season is characterised by all manner of claims and incidence of violence against the opposition, which Western countries duly use to justify the continued imposition of sanctions.

It has happened with such depressing regularity.

And this is not being sensitive about victims of political violence, who happen to be real people with families and friends. It is a kind of cruel circumstance for ordinary people to be caught in the crossfire of a larger political game.

Like some kind of collateral damage.

It is rather depressing that the pattern will likely continue for many years to come.

It has to be said that the capacity to hold peaceful elections is there, and lower-profile elections, which most by-elections mostly are, should ordinarily cause not so many problems. Except for the actions of overzealous persons from parties and security forces.

Ghost of August 1, 2018

The elections in 2018 demonstrate Zimbabwe’s capacity to run a fairly successful and peaceful election – and everything that can go wrong in a moment.

Three years ago, Zimbabwe was holding its first election since the removal of former President Robert Mugabe.

All things were going smoothly and in the morning of August 1, many obsever missions and blocs were praising the peaceful manner that elections had been held. There had been remarkably low levels of violence and the process of conducting the poll itself had been deemed successful in meeting some global best practices.

One observer, it must have been former President of Nigeria, even remarked that nowhere in the world – including in America – had elections been held in perfect conditions.

Zimbabwe was heading for a widely accepted election outcome – with President Mnangagwa and Zanu-PF winning.

Then violence happened.

Some opposition activists started engaging in acts of violence and threatened to storm the national command centre for election and stop the count. They claimed that election results had been delayed, only a day after the poll!

What followed changed the whole narrative about the elections, the run up to which had been peaceful and conduct efficient.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Who wants a repeat of 2018, anyway?

My view is that the administration of President Mnangagwa, which doesn’t show a huge disposition of violence, has always been keen to show its best behaviour to the international community.

The administration has been keen on reengagement especially with the Western powers and has gone on to institute a number of reforms aimed at making a more tolerable political climate as well as opening up the civic and democratic space.

Many times President Mnangagwa is not accorded the kind of credit he deserves, otherwise.

His attempts are ill-served by political violence and repression and other reprehensible acts.

It therefore follows that he cannot mastermind violence or let it happen under his watch, something that gravely puts off his plans.

From this perspective, it can be argued that violence can only come from outside or some elements within that seek to throw spanners into the works.

Each time violence occurs, one has to ask whether this could serve President Mnangagwa’s agenda at home and abroad.

He is obviously not well served by violence, and this is precisely he can’t superintend over or commandeer it.

Claims of the “third force” or external hand are quite tempting, but how the phenomenon has not been properly interrogated and investigated is quite disappointing.

If Zimbabwe has to turn a page, it has to put necessary safeguards against violence and expose its masterminds.

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