By Sij Ncube
Zanu(PF) expectations to win the pending by-elections at the nomination court stage have come to naught as a coterie of independents and little known politicians from obscure political parties have stepped up to contest the polls.
This comes in the wake of a boycott of the by-elections by the main opposition MDC-T which is demanding wide-sweeping electoral reforms.
A total of 102 candidates successfully filed their nomination papers to contest the 14 by-elections President Robert Mugabe has pencilled for June 10 after parliament expelled legislators that broke away from the MDC-T after the July 2013 polls.
In the capital Harare, six seats are up for grabs while Bulawayo has five. Matabeleland North, Gweru and Mutare have one by-election each. There are by-elections in Hurungwe South and Headlands.
Prior to the nomination court stage Zanu PF mandarins expected the MDC T boycott to present the party’s candidates with a chance of romping to victory without a single vote being cast.
Mugabe’s spin-doctor, Jonathan Moyo, who is the minister of information and broadcasting services, was already cherishing landing on a silver platter the Tsholotsho North seat he narrowly lost in July 31 to the then MDC T candidate Roselyn Sipepa Nkomo, the wife of former Lobengula-Magwegwe legislator.
He gloated on social and state media about his imminent return to the poverty-stricken constituency. But as fate would have it Moyo now faces a stiff challenge from two independents in the by-election, one of them a former MDC-T provincial executive member.
In the five by-elections scheduled for Bulawayo constituencies of Pumula, Lobengula-Magwegwe, Luveve, Makokoba and Pelandaba-Mpopoma, ZANU PF candidates face several independents and other candidates from Zapu, the National Constitutional Assembly, Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn successfully filed nomination papers.
But it is the proliferation of independents in all the by-elections which is said to be giving ZANU PF sleepless nights and raising eyebrows among neutrals as Morgan Tsvangirai’s party maintains its boycott following a recent sitting of the party’s national council.
Questions abound, however, whether the independents taking part in the polls are political opportunists or hand-picked candidates to “hot-sit” or baby-sit” for the MDC-T in the event they win while the comatose opposition goes back to the drawing board ahead of 2018 polls.
In the run-up to the by-elections, Tsvangirai has reportedly been under pressure to rescind the party’s decision to shun the polls with divisions said to ben rocking the MDC-T amid claims some senior officials wanted the party to defend its territory particularly in urban centres of Harare and Bulawayo.
The MDC-T virtually kicked Zanu PF out of Harare and Bulawayo in 2000 but there are concerns Tsvangirai is about to surrender “the liberated” zones 15 years later.
Political analysts strongly argue that victories by independents in the by-elections augur well for the opposition which is presently in disarray ahead of the crunch 2018 polls.
Critics point out that the opposition parties, mainly the MDC-T decided to boycott the elections without a clear strategy and without clear consensus from within as many of their members wanted to contest.
In addition to this the Matabeleland region had become a no-go area for ZANU PF in some constituencies. So there are people who genuinely and rightly think that ZANU PF should not be allowed to win the seats on a silver platter in the region, a position which is understandable and makes a lot of sense.
Given the lack of internal democracy in Zimbabwean’s political parties including lack of internal democracy in opposition parties, independent candidates become important for democracy as they are viewed as representing voices that are suffocated by lack of internal democracy in the political parties.
The independents are seen as having a role of not only taking the main political parties to task, but also ensuring that the people are not short-changed or starved of choice due to decisions made in the various political parties that lack internal democracy.
But others are adamant these by-elections should not have been a priority from a government facing liquidity problems instead should have been postponed until the government resolved the fiscal constraints it is grappling with.
“But now that our government is very irresponsible and still want the polls to go ahead, it is important that the independents contest and present a semblance of democracy in our country which all the main political parties lack,” said Maxwell Saungweme, a Zimbabwean development analyst based in Afghanistan.
Jacob Mafume, the spokesman for the MDC T Renewal team, says the proliferations of independents in the pending by-elections is due to a mixture of personal ambition and the need to see how the environment turns out.
“And the smaller parties are hoping to exploit the gap that has been left by the MDCs in their plurality,” said Majume, emphasizing “we (Renewal) certainly have not put any proxies.”
He pointed out that the split in Zanu has also created independents as well and the “Gamatox” faction in Mugabe’s party wants to test its strength against the party in the midst of internal political strife.
“The Gamatox hope to ride on the people hatred for Zanu(PF).”
But Mafume is quick to point out that the independents are likely to have a very little impact in the by-elections, claiming Zimbabweans are aware that only a large group – a grand coalition – can only dislodge ZANU PF.
“We only need to reconfigure and create a new consensus on what needs to be done. The current balkanisation of the two major political processes is needed and must continue to create a new political landscape. We need to allow the emergence of new alliances. Zanu PF and the MDC T were dragging Zimbabwe down as they were stuck in an unending stalemate. We need to create coalition governments as is the norm in the world currently.”
Moses Chamboko, the interim secretary general of the Zimbabweans United for Democracy ZUNDE), said most of the independents in the pending by-elections are standing in for their respective parties albeit clandestinely.
“If they win, their parties have won, if they lose, it is individuals that have lost. It’s a mind and chance game,” says Chamboko.
Tawanda Chimhinhi, the executive of the Election Resource Centre, believes the participation of independents is driven by a combination of political opportunism and the need to cover political space for the main opposition.
He added that the impact of independents would vary from constituency to constituency with a likely strong influence in Hurungwe South where expelled Zanu PF legislator Temba Mliswa is seeking to regain his seat against Zanu PF candidate Keith Guzha.