PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s declaration that the opposition would never emulate the feat of Zambian President Hikainde Hichilema by winning an election shows that the regime is in panic mode ahead of 2023 polls, analysts have said.
In his now familiar politicking, Mnangagwa said the Zimbabwean opposition should desist from dreaming of replicating the Zambian opposition’s victory.
Reminiscent of Ian Douglas Smith’s futile, “not in a thousand years” statement directed at the black nationalists, Mnangagwa spoke with bravado last week. But much to Smith’s dismay, Independence came, and he lived to see the same nationalists govern a post-independent Zimbabwe.
The all-too-familiar script has played out in mainstream politics in Zimbabwe since 1980 where Zanu PF politicians have declared that the country will never be ruled by an opposition party.
“Whoever dreams that what happened in Zambia will repeat itself here, should forget it,” he said while addressing a predominantly Zanu PF crowd in Mutare last week.
The import of his statement raises many questions ahead of the 2023 elections as to whether the country will hold free and fair elections.
With a history of unleashing political violence on the opposition, the involvement of the security forces and allegations of vote rigging, Mnangagwa’s statement can be viewed as intimidatory.
Zanu PF’s relationship with the security forces has over the years negated the will of the people, with the 2008 elections an example of how the army was used to ensure that the late Morgan Tsvangirai, who had beaten former president Robert Mugabe in the first round of presidential elections, ultimately loses the polls.
The party’s collusion with the judiciary is also glaring, especially after Mnangagwa mutilated the constitution to extend Chief Justice Luke Malaba’s term of office beyond his retirement age.
Malaba will be central to Mnangagwa’s win in 2023 after ruling in his favour in the 2018 election petition against MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.
If Mnangagwa is so confident that he is a popular leader and that the ruling Zanu PF commands support, why does he need Malaba’s help or assurance?
The fact that he desparately needs Malaba only confirms that he does not trust his ability to win without rigging or the court’s help. His behaviour on the ground does not reflect a person who is confident of clean victory.
But last week’s events in Zambia which saw Hichilema resoundingly defeating his predecessor Edgar Lungu by over a million votes – with youths playing a pivotal role – shows that the tide could be turning. Like in Zambia, the youths could determine the next election and whichever candidate manages to capture their imagination is guaranteed of winning a clean election.
Despite concerted efforts to make campaigning hard for Hichilema, Lungu lost dismally, largely due to a decisive turnout by young Zambians.
This shows there is a new crop of voters, predominantly comprising the youth, who can spring a surprise come 2023.
It is apparent that Mnangagwa’s statement betrays a rattled politician desperate to curb the enthusiasm of a Zimbabwean opposition energised by Hichilema’s win. Opposition parties across the length and breath of Africa now fancy their chances of dislodging ruling parties.
Indeed, Hichilema’s win has sent shockwaves across Africa, causing panic among long-standing regimes, and ramping up the confidence of opposition parties on the continent.
Mnangagwa wants to burst that bubble that is encouraging opposition leaders like Chamisa and Uganda’s Bobi Wine to dream again.
His statements are no different from previous declarations by the army and top Zanu PF officials that the opposition would never win hence no possibility for a smooth transition of power in country.
“Muka ubike doro,” Mnangagwa’s trademark denunciation of the opposition, means forget it.
He is saying, in effect, that Zimbabweans must forget that they can ever experience a Hichilema moment, at least not in this life.
Political analyst Ibbo Mandaza said: “Of course, the regime – and in particular Emmerson – is rattled.”
But Mnangagwa’s statement comes amid a dip in popularity after he failed the ailing economy, ordered soldiers to shoot civilians in August 2018 and January 2019.
Mnangagwa is less popular than Mugabe who, despite murdering civilians and ruining the economy, still wielded some residual support. That did not stop Mugabe from losing the first round of polls to Tsvangirai in 2008, only to be rescued by the army.
What about a less popular and a less charismatic leader in the form of Mnangagwa who will face a young, popular and eloquent leader by way of Chamisa?
His statement rings hollow, more so because the population dynamics of the youth and those with attachment to the liberation struggle are changing.
Rigging could be the reason behind the bold statement.
But Mandaza believes: “They will have difficulty in pulling off another fraudulent poll, thanks to the Zambian precedent and the watchful eye of the world.”
He said Zimbabwe was ready for a transition, but under a transitional authority. The National Transitional Authority is a caretaker government made up of technocrats whose duty is to create a good policy framework for the economy and craft policies for a level playing field.
Political analyst Stephen Chan said: “The Hichilema victory in Zambia was startling, but not too much should be read into it.”
He said opposition parties should emulate his forward-looking political messaging, adding that regimes across Africa had modified their rigging machinery over the years, making it difficult for alternative voices to win elections.
“Hichilema is indeed a ‘newcomer’. He is not a member of the Kaunda independence generation. He was two years old when independence came. So, he had to campaign by looking forward, not looking back. When Africa stops looking backwards, that will be the key change in attitude across Africa, especially in ‘liberation Africa’,” Chan said.
Indeed the next polls should be won by a candidate who will appeal to the youths and not just empty declarations.
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