Significance of by-elections for all the three protagonist
THE long overdue and the much-delayed by-elections for the vacant National Assembly and local authority positions are scheduled for 26 March 2022.
These by-elections are being sandwiched between the controversial, inconclusive and the legitimacy-deficit July 2018 harmonised elections and the 2023 general elections. They will come roughly between 16 months to 18 months after the 26 March 2022 by-elections.
Accordingly, these by-elections have been categorised and classified as a mini-general election. That is, they act as the dress rehearsal for the 2023 general elections.
Thus, they provide a window of opportunity and yardstick to gauge how the three main protagonists might perform in 2023. It will provide an eye opening opportunity on who will have the momentum or the likely front runner moving into the 2023 general elections.
Therefore, this opinion piece attempts to provide a political prognosis and a critical analysis on the three main protagonists in the forthcoming by-elections, namely Zanu PF, the MDC-Alliance and the MDC-T.
Accordingly, I will be objectively looking into the political dynamics, the challenges and the consequential repercussions that are confronting each protagonist and the inevitable pitfalls that might befall them between now and 26 March 2022 and, likely to spill over to the 2023 general elections.
Therefore, I will be further examining and analysing, firstly Zanu PF then followed by the MDC-Alliance and then lastly the MDC-T.
I conveniently left out the independent candidates and other briefcase/desktop fringe political parties, because realistically none of them have the political capital and political gravitas to emulate a Margaret Dongo-style 1996 parliamentary victory nor a Jonathon Moyo`s 2005- type parliamentary electoral victory.
The Zanu PF contradistinctions
The March 2022 by-elections are the second major elections in the post -Robert Mugabe Zanu PF. Thus, these are the second competitive elections in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa will be spearheading and presiding over as both the President of Zimbabwe and Zanu PF.
Therefore, these by-elections, despite the fact that most of them are being held in predominantly opposition (MDC-Alliance) strongholds, with a few in Zanu PF rural heartlands, they still have fundamental importance to both the exogenous and endogenous contradictions and contestations within Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF presidency.
Accordingly, in the opposition strongholds, Zanu PF will be measuring to see if its strategy of emasculating and destabilising the opposition over the last two years has worked. Through controversially aiding and abetting the discriminant recall of MDC-Alliance MPs and councillors by the MDC-T has negatively impacted on the MDC-Alliance social and political base.
That is whether the two-year power vacuum has led to the political pendulum swinging in Zanu PF direction and favour. That is, ascertaining whether there has been a significant gain in voters shifting from the MDC-Alliance to Zanu PF, in comparison to the 2018 parliamentary results. Notwithstanding, Zanu PF may not win the parliamentary seats in these MDC-Alliance strongholds. Moreover, the by-elections will be a window of opportunity for Zanu PF to gauge the effectiveness or lack thereof of Twabammania.
That is to see whether Passion Java’s Zanu PF-sponsored extravagant road campaign-stops and forays in the urban areas have had a positive effect on Zanu PF’s electoral chances. The socialite and self-styled “prophet” Java has an incestous and clientelistic relationship with Zanu PF.
He has been drafted by Zanu PF in a desperate attempt to attract the deproletarianised and down-troddenised ghetto youths who are demographically the majoritarian and who naturally gravitate towards the youthful and energetic zeal of Nelson Chamisa.
Accordingly, the by-elections provides an electoral and political laboratory for the Zanu PF to test the effectiveness of Java’s anti-Chamisa gospel of twabamism and mbingaism. Crucially, the by-election also serves as a barometer for President Mnangagwa to measure whether his public relations stunts, including his signature ribbon-cutting aka official opening of piecemeal and sometimes low-profile and mediocre projects such as fuel stations, five-kilometre tarmac roads, vegetable markets, mortuaries, bus stations and low-level rural bridges have managed to get the political and electoral buy-ins from prospective voters.
Additionally, the by-elections will also show whether Mnangagwa and Zanu PF’s Leninist dictum of “the best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves” has worked effectively or not.
That is, whether their trojan horse, the MDC-T, will win the vacant constituencies in predominantly opposition strongholds.
Needless to say that the ghost of factionalism continues to rear its ugly head within the Zanu PF body politic.
This has been brought into sharp focus by the recently held divisive and controversial Zanu PF provincial elections which were characterised by fratricidal mudslinging, accusations and counter-accusations of electoral malpractices and cheating between the two warring factions. One faction is allied to Constantino Chiwenga and another to Mnangagwa. This dog-eatdog factionalism has so far claimed its two latest victims.
The first is Owen “Mudha” Ncube, the former minister of State Security, who was also the dreaded and fearsome godfather of machete gangsterism in the Midlands province.
The second victim of factionalism is the former Zanu PF director for administration, Dickson Dzora.
Therefore, these by-elections provide a litmus test to evaluate whether there will be a peacocracy and modus vivendi between these two warring factions, or the vanquished and bitter faction will resort to the tried and tested tactical sabotage strategy of “bhora musango”.
Ultimately, the results of the by-elections might have a consequential effect on how the Zanu PF internal contestations and contradictions will play out in its December 2022 elective congress.
Accordingly, a poor and mediocre electoral performance by Zanu PF will have a far-reaching consequences on the popularity and electability of Mnangagwa both within and outside the Zanu PF party.
The MDC-Alliance’s contradistinctions
Over the last two years the MDC-Alliance supporters, sympathisers and neutral observers have watched in disbelief and angst as the party’s parliamentarians and councillors were viciously and callously recalled from Parliament and from the local authorities by the MDC-T in cahoots with the Speaker of Parliament and the judiciary.
However, conspicuous by its absence was a cohesive and sound counter-political and democratic resistance plan of action from the leadership of the MDC-Alliance, outside the captured and compromised judiciary battlefield in order to stop and put an end to these wanton and blatant daylight robberies by the MDC-T.
Consequently, the lack of a political action plan to reclaim and stop the parliamentary and local council recalls has the unintended consequences of demoralising and demobilising the rank and file support base of the MDC-Alliance who felt betrayed by the lack of a demonstrable political fightback from the party in demanding the restoration of its elected officials.
Therefore, these by-elections provide a glorious opportunity for the MDC-Alliance to regain the lost trust and confidence of their rank and file socio-political support base. Indeed, it is an opportunity for the MDC-Alliance to reconnect with its supporters and show them that they are prepared to risk everything to restore their elected officials.
Accordingly, these by-elections are a significant bridge-building exercise between the MDC-Alliance leadership and its support base. It is a window of opportunity whereby the leadership goes back to its support base and reassures them that, despite the setbacks of the recalls, the leadership and the shepherds will not abandon the democratic struggle and surrender to Zanu PF autocracy.
Furthermore, these by-elections are a significant platform for the MDC-Alliance to recharge and re-energise its political machinery in order to build a sound springboard that will propel it into the 2023 general elections on a rather robust and strong political and electoral trajectory.
Crucially, the by-elections give the MDC-Alliance an early opportunity to test their electoral strategies against two formidable opponents, namely Zanu PF and the MDC-T.
This will provide invaluable learning experi ences for the MDC-Alliance that they will need to put to practical effect in 2023 This will entail figuring out how best they can circumnavigate a 2023 electoral landscape under autocracy.
Moreover, the 26 March by-elections could be a very important electoral mechanism for the MDC-Alliance to conduct a trial run and put into practice their “defend the vote and protect the vote” anti-rigging electoral manual and blueprint in order for them to assess the efficacy or lack thereof of this counter-vote rigging strategy.
This provides an invaluable learning experience that will be of great use in the 2023 general elections. The notion of an election boycott is politically bankrupt because it robs and deprives the MDC-Alliance of this important learning and testing experience.
Additionally, the by-elections can be used by the MDC-Alliance to shatter the illusion that has been perpetrated and reinforced by state media and a plethora of Zanu PF social media propagandists known as “varakashi” that the judicially-modified MDC-T has displaced the MDC-Alliance as the main opposition.
Thus, the MDC-Alliance must work hard and deliver a reality check electoral knockout punch on the MDC-T, thereby exposing them as mere regime charlatans who have been living on borrowed robes of the MDC-Alliance’s 2018 electoral victories and political capital.
This will also send a clear message to the Zanu PF government that their strategy of divide-and-fool or divide-and-rule of propping up the MDC-T with the aim of destabilising and neutralising the MDC-Alliance is a lost cause. The MDC-T’s contradistinctions The 26 March 2022 by-election will be the first national electoral contest Douglas Mwonzora will be participating in as leader of a political party.
It is common knowledge and an open secret that the MDC-T has never been in favour of presenting itself before the electorate. Consequently, since it instigated the parliamentary and local council recalls, the MDC-T has always been playing hide and seek and is very much averse to present itself to an electoral contest.
Accordingly, once Mwonzora controversially assumed the leadership of the MDC-T, he has been propagating the politics of appeasement and accommodation with the Zanu PF government through his lukewarm anti-democratic milk-toast doctrine of rational disputation.
Furthermore, through various public proclamations senior MDC-T officials have shown their willingness to subvert electoral constitutional democracy by preferring to have dialogue that will birth a self-serving elitist patronage entity, disguised as a government of national unity, rather than advocate for the electoral contests for the outstanding by-elections.
Accordingly, the Mwonzora-led MDC-T faces a herculean task as it aims to test its borrowed and dubious political capital in the unforgiving and brutal electoral ecosystem of Zimbabwe.
Mwonzora and the MDC-T were awarded parliamentary and local authority freebies by the Zanu PF-captured Parliament and the courts on the basis that they will assist in destroying and neutralising the MDC-A.
Therefore, this election will be payback time for the MDC-T for all the largesse they were provided by the Zanu PF government. That is, the Zanu PF government is going to expect the MDC-T to prove that it has managed to displace the MDC-Alliance through winning some of the by-election seats.
However, this is going to be a tall order for the MDC-T, because through its scorched earth policies of parliamentary recalls and cosying up to the Zanu PF government the MDC-T has failed to win the hearts and minds of the opposition constituency.
This has been brought into sharp focus by a considerable number of candidates who dramatically withdraw from representing the MDC-T in the by-elections. As such, both Mwonzora and the MDC-T are highly detested and frowned upon and considered an anathema by the court of public opinion. Accordingly, the 26 March by-elections will likely show that the honeymoon period is over for the MDC-T.
Thus, for the past two years the MDC-T has been babysat and mollycoddled by the Zanu PF government and lavished with favourable media coverage by state media which has been historically hostile to the opposition.
Therefore, the MDC-T has its work cut out and faces a formidable challenge to gain traction in the court of public opinion. As a result, Mwonzora faces a serious litmus test to prove to his handlers, the Zanu PF government that he will not tragically fail to deliver opposition votes and seats to the regime, in manner similar to how Thokozani Khupe dismally flopped in the 2018 harmonised elections.
Nonetheless, the political and electoral temperature in the opposition strongholds clearly points to the likelihood of electoral defeat for the MDC-T. Suffice to say that Mwonzora and his political outfit the MDC-T are also plagued by their fair share of intra-party squabbles and factionalism.
This has been demonstrated by the conspicuous absence of Khupe and her other lieutenants from MDC-T high-level meetings and Press conferences. This might explain why a considerable number of MDC-T by-election candidates in Bulawayo and Matabeland provinces withdrew their candidatures.
This inevitably places a huge electoral obstacle on how Mwonzora will navigate the winner-takes-all by-elections while leading a faction-ridden party.
Consequently, he will be attempting to wage two battles at once. On one hand he will be attempting to fight factional battles within his own camp and on the other he is attempting to destabilise and neutralise Chamisa and the MDC-Alliance.
The forthcoming by-elections present watershed moments for Zanu PF, the MDC-Alliance and the MDC-T.
All these three respective political parties are partaking in this contest confronted with various internal and external contradictions, challenges and permutations which will have far-reaching consequences on their political fortunes and trajectory.
For Zanu PF, the by-election performance might have a profound effect on the internal power contestations and factional realignments at its December 2022 elective congress. In terms of the MDC-Alliance, these by-elections provide a good stepping stone to relaunch and rehabilitate their political vehicle which has been bastardised and cannibalised through Zanu PF and MDC-T-sanctioned vindictive recalls.
It is an opportunity for the MDC-Alliance to re-energise its long-suffering support base and reassure their members that although they are down, they are not out, and are still fighting for the democratic cause.
However, for the MDC-T, the by-elections are a moment of truth and a reality check. Their highly questionable opposition credentials will be put to the stern test.
Furthermore, the moment also provides an opportunity for citizens to see how Mwonzora will walk a political tightrope as he desperately attempts to steady his faction-ridden political formation while he tries to neutralise and obstruct the MDC-Alliance.
*About the writer: Taona T. Denhere is a human rights and international development lawyer based in the United Kingdom.