THE United States government has ratcheted up pressure on Zimbabwe to hold by-elections, after nearly 30 constituencies were left with no representation following dramatic recalls of MDC Alliance legislators by MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora.
Critics say the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus have been used by authoritarian governments to throttle democracy and stifle the main opposition led by Nelson Chamisa.
Following the outbreak of the disease last year, the government gazetted a statutory instrument barring large gatherings such as political meetings, citing public health concerns. Zimbabwe has in the past few weeks recorded a sharp decline in new cases and fatalities, prompting the authorities to ease the restrictions except for political rallies and nightclubs.
The barring of elections follows the recalling of tens of lawmakers, as well as local authority representatives, amid a belief that Mwonzora is aiding and abetting Zanu PF’s plot to weaken Chamisa’s party ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Mwonzora and Chamisa had a major fallout after the death of MDC founding president Morgan Tsvangirai in February 2018. Apart from the recalls, some representatives have over the past year died and are yet to be replaced.
The US embassy in Harare on Thursday queried why Zimbabwe had not held any elections following the recalls yet its regional peers had successfully conducted polls.
“When will the Zimbabwean government resume by-elections? Long-standing parliamentary vacancies have left over 754 000 voters in 26 constituencies without elected representation. Only by-elections will restore these citizens’ rights to representation,” the embassy tweeted.
“Many countries have held elections despite the pandemic, including Zambia, South Africa, Malawi and the United States, demonstrating that Covid-safe elections are possible. We are confident Zimbabwe can do the same.”
Zambia became the latest country in the Southern African Development Community to hold elections in recent times and in the middle of the pandemic. Hakainde Hichilema surprised many in the region when he outpolled the then incumbent Edgar Lungu in the 12 August elections. South Africa is in November expected to have local authority elections.
Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe’s Information secretary, was quick to react to the tweet, subtly accusing the US government of meddling in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.
“Surely, the US Embassy knows where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is located. Should there be need for a conversation on this subject you can easily engage them and get a briefing. These highly inflammatory tweets are as much disrespectful as they are unnecessary,” Mangwana tweeted.
This week, Mwonzora began openly cozying up to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s party when he agreed to participate in a forum of little-known political parties which failed to win a single constituency during the 2018 elections.
Mnangagwa, who contested the elections buoyed by the goodwill he had after the ouster of longtime leader Robert Mugabe, had a wafer-thin margin over his archrival, Chamisa. Political commentators say Zanu PF, which is also facing internal fights, wants politicians coalescing under the Political Actors Dialogue to sign a pact which will postpone the next polls and further consolidate Mnangagwa’s stronghold.
Analysts have also argued that the setting aside of a High Court ruling which had brought an end to Luke Malaba’s tenure as Chief Justice may also have serious ramifications should Zimbabwe go for elections in less than two years’ time.
Earlier this week, the Chamisa-led formation yesterday accused Zanu PF and state security agents of hijacking his party’s Citizens Convergence for Change (CCC) project and attempting to get the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to acknowledge the existence of little-known politician Varaidzo Musungo.
It is believed that the MDC Alliance had targeted to contest the 2023 general election as CCC, after Mwonzora laid claim to the MDC Alliance name. The CCC, which has been trending on social media over the past few weeks as a rallying call for opposition supporters, is the brainchild of the MDC Alliance.